Record Deadlock Brings Tears, Vigil, Government by Lawsuit
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Lawmakers, breaking constitutional deadlines in their struggle to resolve a record budget stalemate, are bitterly divided as the courts intervene to order payments to the poor, disabled and the elderly.
California’s $50 billion budget crisis, an election-year exercise in stubbornness, pits lame-duck Republican Gov. George Deukmejian and the Assembly’s Republican caucus against the Legislature’s majority Democrats.
Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, who grew up on welfare in St. Louis, cried during a floor debate as she recalled her welfare childhood and accused Republicans of saying ″poor children may not eat.″
Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, the budget committee chairman, said he cried while driving home out of hopelessness and embarrassment that ″the richest state in the richest nation in the world’s entire history″ is hurting the poor and helpless.
Deukmejian and the Republicans maintain that Democrats’ unwillingness to live within the state’s means would only worsen the fiscal crisis in future years.
″Dog doo″ is what GOP Assemblyman Bill Baker bluntly called a spending plan passed by the state Senate and rejected by the Assembly.
″Dog Doo II, the sequel,″ is what Baker called a similar budget proposal that was mostly the product of Assembly Democrats and was rejected by Assembly Republicans last week.
″This is a Band-Aid solution that covers up the problems for another year,″ said Ross Johnson, the Assembly’s Republican leader.
The budget for the 1990-91 fiscal year that began July 1 is three weeks overdue with no resolution in sight. Previously, the latest the state had ever passed a budget was July 19. That record was set during the recession of 1983.
Unlike 1983, California’s economy this year is relatively strong. The problem, as both sides agree, is a $3.6 billion gap between estimated tax revenues and the spending necessary for current services plus increases for inflation and population and to maintain a $1.3 billion emergency reserve.
The agreement ends there.
Democrats say the problem is caused by exploding populations in costly programs such as public schools, prisons, aid to the elderly and AIDS patients, and by the $29 billion in various tax cuts handed out since 1978.
Republicans say the problem is runaway government spending, overly generous welfare programs and a series of initiatives that have forced minimum spending levels for programs such as public schools.
Deukmejian and the Legislature’s Republicans, particularly those in the Assembly, want the gap closed entirely with cuts, refusing to agree to any tax increases.
Democrats say cuts would be too harsh in public health, school, university and mental health programs and want a combination of some cuts and some tax increases. Neither side is willing to budge.
Without a budget, state government goes on, but the controller has no authority to pay bills and issue paychecks.
However, groups owed money have gone to the federal courts, which through Friday had ordered payment of $688 million in bills for Medi-Cal doctors, hospitals and nursing homes, for welfare mothers, children and for in-home workers.
California is not the only state with budget problems this year. The state Senate Office of Research said last week that 24 other states have had gaps between revenues and expenditures. Fifteen states chose to raise taxes to solve the problem.
California’s bond rating is currently ″AAA,″ the highest possible, from the three major rating houses; some states with budget problems have had their bond ratings lowered.
Controller Gray Davis warned, ″I think each day we go without a budget, we run the risk of annoying the credit rating agencies.″
As the budget standoff continues, many groups have staged rallies and sit- ins in the Capitol. About four dozen people in wheelchairs have been arrested in a series of demonstrations in the governor’s office this month.
Vasconcellos, a Democrat, brought three welfare mothers and their nine children to the Capitol and asked Deukmejian to meet with them and explain why he wants to freeze their benefits. The governor declined.
Despite the crisis, the Capitol this weekend was nearly empty. The Senate passed a budget proposal on July 10 and went home until the Assembly acts. The Assembly rejected a second budget proposal Thursday and adjourned for the weekend.
The Capitol is deserted, that is, except for one legislator.
Democratic Assemblyman Norman Waters began a vigil Friday in the Assembly chambers. Waters, who faces a tough re-election race in November, said he’ll sit there alone until the budget crisis is solved because ″compromise can’t happen if people don’t bother to show up.″
Waters could have a long wait.
Assemblywoman Waters, who is not related, said during floor debate, ″It will be a cold day in hell before I participate in a society giving up on its children.″
Republican Assemblyman Chris Chandler said he partially agreed with her: ″There are many of us over here who are prepared to stay here until hell freezes over.″