Pass the darn thing

Darrell Steinberg is the California state Senator representing Sacramento

As I write this, California’s budget is over one month late. The governor, Senate Democrats, Assembly Democrats and Assembly Republicans have agreed on a spending plan. Senate Republicans continue to hold out for additional cuts to social programs and for non-fiscal changes to California’s landmark environmental laws.

The Senate Republican holdout is hurting real people. More than $1 billion in state support for needed public services in local communities has gone unpaid since July 1, according to the state controller’s office.

Some examples: Hospitals, clinics and nursing homes haven’t been paid $227 million in Medi-Cal reimbursements. School districts haven’t been paid $170 million for programs such as special education and remedial summer-school programs. Child-development programs and preschools have taken a $300 million hit.

Political pundits often say that the biggest challenge California faces is that voters want additional investment, but don’t want to pay for it. Certainly the past has proved this to be at least partially true—voters restricted governments’ ability to raise revenues by passing 1978’s Proposition 13, which capped property taxes at 1 percent and required revenue increases to be approved by supermajorities.

However, recent events suggest a new dynamic is at work in California. Last year, voters overwhelmingly passed $40 billion in infrastructure bonds to fix or upgrade our schools, roads, levees, parks and to develop more affordable housing in our state. Perhaps the bonds demonstrate that Californians see our crumbling public infrastructure as the consequence of politicians ignoring public investments for too long.

The 2007 budget isn’t perfect by any means. Democrats would have done more to fund social services, education and public transit by not paying down as much debt as Governor Schwarzenegger proposed.

Governing, however, requires choosing responsibility over recalcitrance, so Democrats crafted a budget with the governor that stressed responsible and rational compromise. I voted for it, along with the 24 other Democrats in the Senate. Only one Republican voted along with us to end the stalemate.

It’s far past the time to pass a California state budget.