Candy rather than compromise

Relates to:
Date: 2002-06-01

By Jedd Meddefind
written for assemblyman Tim Leslie

The Budget drama in the State Legislature has held a remarkable similarity to the sometimes comic tension between indulgent grandparents and limits-conscious parents over how best to “love” a pudgy and over-pampered offspring—in this case, the State Budget.

There can be no doubt it is the doting grandparents who have been setting the table in recent history. Our obtuse little lad with the irresistible smile has swelled 37% over the past two years—the equivalent of going from size 38 to 52 in twenty-four months. That rate of waste expansion would trouble any caring parent. Equally disconcerting is the fact that this year’s budgetary feast will grow the portly chap beyond what even the stretchiest pants could hold next year—since the state is drawing from reserves to cover the current budget, a $4 billion dollar deficit is projected for the coming fiscal year.

In light of this reality, Republicans argued that further increases in rate-of-intake would hardly be healthy. They viewed attempts to augment the State’s diet with a ¼ cent sales tax increase as absolutely inappropriate, no matter how appealing the child’s grin.
The indulgent grandparents, however, had become so accustomed to choosing the menu that thoughts of restrictions—even some sort of compromise with the “cold hearted” parents—appeared unthinkable. They could never give up the great glee brought to the child by the many sweet things they loved to provide. And so, instead of looking to cut calories, Democrats actually piled more tasty morsels onto an already bloated spending plan.

Somehow—in what was supposedly an austere fiscal environment—$76 million dollars in additional spending was proposed, including everything from stadium lights to agriculture perks.

Republicans cannot say they didn’t like the focus of the Democrat’s added spending. In fact, the new expenditures would fund several efforts—such as support for rural law enforcement or repeal of the sales tax on propane—of which the GOP has long been the chief proponent.

What was so disturbing was the apparent message of the flurry of new expenditure proposals: Democrats would do anything rather than be forced to compromise with Republicans.

From the beginning of the Budget discussion, Republicans set forth relatively minor changes they wanted to see made in the Democrat-shaped budget before they would give it their support:

1) Removal of the ¼ cent sales tax increase.
2) Equalization of school funding to ensure equality in the monies provided to school districts.
3) Follow through on last year’s promise to commit revenue from the sales tax on gasoline exclusively to roads and transportation infrastructure.
4) Removal of $140 million in pork projects.

With these requests on the table, Republicans waited, and—perhaps I should not admit this—many were willing to settle for having even a portion of their modest requests honored. Democrats, however, indicate only a willingness to pass the budget through means other than compromise, most notably, with what amounted to a $76 million public-relations buy. Key constituencies, from farmers to law enforcement, were made grandiose promises with the understanding that they, in turn, would provide pressure on Republicans to deliver votes for the Budget.

Where this new money is to come from is something of a mystery. A week before, the Governor and Democrat pet organizations like firefighters’ and teachers’ unions were suggesting that if a single penny were diverted from the current budget plan, forest fires, ignorance, and other ills would engulf the state. Then, out of nowhere, an enormous chunk of spending cash materialized.

But instead of using their new-found funny money to negotiate compromise with Republican requests, Democrats went out to buy additional political pressure. It appears they have simply become too accustomed to ruling without Republican consensus, and find the need to make even the smallest concessions abhorrent.
The question is, will Democrats ever appear at the bargaining table again, or, as was the case with this year’s Budget, will they continue to show themselves willing to do anything but compromise. We can certainly hope not, but the recent record isn’t reassuring. As long as Democrats hold the Governorship and both house of the Legislature, they hold the purse strings. And candy-coated promises are hard to resist. As one rural county Sheriff said in reaction to the $500,000 Democrats have promised his office, “The way the Democrats are prostituting us bothers me, but we sure could use the money.” A spoonful of sugar always helps the poison go down.

--Tim Leslie represents California’s 4th Assembly District. Please call 916/ 319-2004 with any questions regarding this editorial.

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