This debacle must end

Now is the time to lance the $42 billion budget boil on the back of Californians

If the $42 billion budget boil on the back of the people of California is ever to be lanced, now is the time.

Early reports on the secret Big Five negotiations among Democratic and Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggest they’re close to agreeing on a package deal that calls for a mix of temporary tax hikes on retail sales, cars, gasoline and personal income and severe cuts in social and other services.

This compromise must succeed, or the governor is going to have a rebellion on his hands. On Tuesday, Bill Connelly, the chairman of the Butte County Board of Supervisors, announced that he would go to jail rather than comply with a state edict calling for the county to pay for state-mandated and heretofore state-funded programs operated by the county (click here for details). Other supervisors, while not going quite that far, agreed with his position.

They’re not alone: Up and down the state, counties are protesting what they rightly see as the unprecedented dysfunction of state government, which has been utterly and shamefully derelict in solving its fiscal problems. Some counties have gone so far as to threaten to stop sending collected tax revenues to the state.

Whether out of necessity or as a tactical move or both, the governor announced Tuesday (Feb. 10) that he would lay off as many as 10,000 state employees if a new budget is not passed this week. Without an agreement, as many as 20,000 state workers will begin receiving layoff warnings Friday.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters Tuesday that he expected a vote in the Senate by Friday. He and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass expressed confidence that the plan would get at least three Republican votes in both houses, the minimum needed for passage.

We certainly hope so. We don’t like to see budget deals being made in secret, rather than through open debate, but we’ll take what we can get. This fiscal fiasco has gone on long enough.