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Legislature Rolls the Dice on State Budget

This article was contributed by Paul Stewart, a veteran of public policy, legislative and political battles.

Doubtless you’ve read that the legislature adopted a state budget. And to comply with the law (and so they can get paid), the solons got it out on time and balanced but negotiations continue via ‘trailer bills.’ (No, not like in a trailer park but bills that ‘trail’ a major piece of legislation and contain funding components to make it work.)

Ah, but what’s balanced on paper in reality hangs by a single horsehair as did the Sword of Damocles.

BTW: The Damocles thing is often referenced improperly with the sword of Damocles representing great peril – which it does – but it actually illustrates that anybody who has immense wealth, luxury, power and the feeling of security that engenders also is not paying attention to the proverbial other side of the coin (don’t you just love mixed metaphors?) and is living under an equally dangerous threat.

O.K, here are the basics: the state needs the Governor’s November Income Tax/Sales Tax Initiative to pass. The balancing of the budget is predicated on its’ passage. So one would think the Legislature and the Governor would do nothing to upset what appears to be a slight favoring of the proposal. Recent Field Poll results show the Gov's measure is sampling at 54%yes and 38% nada. Meanwhile, the “Our Children, Our Future” (AKA the Millionaire Tax) Initiative is a dead heat, 46%-46%.

And here is where the Legislature is rollin’ the bones, big time. It’s the number of "yes" voters for JB’s tax measure who say they were less likely to support his plan IF the Legislature approved funds for high speed rail (AKA the Bullet Train).

It’s a whopping 21% of voters... and guess what the Legislature did last Friday? Yep, $69 Billion for a train that will initially take people from Merced to Bakersfield. So for grins, let’s say 50% of those voters polled about the Bullet Train/Tax Measure were bluffing.

That still basically flips the percentages and the Governor’s measure rolls snake eyes.

So here are your budget scenarios: If the Gov’s measure fails… if the “Our Children, Our Future” measure passes by more than the Governor’s proposal (thus taking precedent)… or if they both fail: The budget goes down in flames.

Now comes the fun. Put all the money in and let’s roll ‘em again: That same polling data noted a mongo 72% of all voters already disapprove of the trigger cuts that will befall education if the Gov’s tax measure fails.

I’ve commented about this previously… there are a series of budget cuts which automatically kick in if the state doesn’t achieve the anticipated revenue it needs to make the budget work… which includes approval of the Governor’s tax initiative. The bulk of these cuts will be to education, with the more drastic tier of cuts aimed at nothing but education. And this is beyond what has already taken place. Believe me, the folks at the K-12, community college and UC/CA state college system levels are sweaty of palm.

But don’t worry… if the tax measure is not approved, you can count on an instantaneous bipartisan juggernaut to undo the trigger cuts to K-12 as the prospects of shortened the school year materialize (down to 160 days) and the cuts will be shifted to non-K12 programs. WARNING - Massive understatement  to follow: While a certain amount of rollover deficit to FY2013-14 is possible, the state is likely to have a major cash problem if the tax measure fails. Ya think? Come on 7’s!

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