California Lawmakers break no-budget records

Does it bother them that people aren’t getting paid? Apparently not

Two dubious records have fallen this week. Last Thursday, Sept. 16, California lawmakers tied the record for the latest day a budget was approved, in 2008. The following day they broke it. And today (Thursday, Sept. 23), they have tied the record for the longest the state has gone without a signed budget. Barring divine intervention, that record will be broken tomorrow, and nobody knows when an agreement will be reached.

One of the problems with late budgets is that most Californians don’t feel them, at least not at first. Their lives go on pretty much as before. But for those people—vendors who provide supplies to the state; property owners who rent to state agencies; child-care workers and centers; student Cal Grant recipients; community medical-clinic and adult health-care center employees—who rely directly on the state for their incomes or to keep their businesses going, late budgets can be disastrous.

In July and August, the state failed to pay an estimated $3.3 billion in bills, according to the State Controller’s Office, and is projected to stiff people by $3.1 billion in September alone.

Many of the businesses and agencies have been forced to turn to short-term loans to keep the doors open; others have laid off employees, held back rent payments, maxed out credit cards, taken out second mortgages, not paid their own suppliers or simply gone out of business.

If this bothers lawmakers at all, they don’t show it. There appears to be little sense of urgency in the Capitol—that, or lawmakers are so entrenched in their positions they know that reaching accord is virtually impossible. If that’s the case, we’re in even worse trouble than we thought.