Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has thrown down the gauntlet in his 2010-2011 state budget proposal. He promises no new taxes and deep cuts to the state's tattered social safety net in his effort to balance a budget $19 billion in the hole.
Now the budget ball is in the legislature's court. For the state's major gubernatorial candidates, the state's mess is more of a hot potato. How they respond may tell us much about how they might govern.
The approaches have been incredibly different.
Republican Steve Poizner has offered his 10-10-10 plan, which would cut the current $86 billion budget by 10 percent, cut all taxes by 10 percent, and place $10 billion in a reserve fund.
Left unknown is how the 10 percent cuts in tax revenues would plug the $19 billion budget gap facing the state over the next 14 months.
Further, placement of $10 billion in a reserve fund strangles the state treasury even more.
Republican Meg Whitman has offered a less audacious plan, promising to cut the state's civil servant workforce by 17 percent and moving the retirement eligibility ages of state employees from 55 to 65. A cut of 17 percent sounds impressive, except it amounts to about $3 billion in salaries, far short of the $19 billion deficit.
And while a discussion of higher retirement ages may make sense, it does nothing in the near term.
Perhaps the most circumspect is Democrat Jerry Brown, who has said simply that he will not raise taxes without a vote of the people. In other words, he has dodged the issue altogether, a luxury Brown can afford for the time being since he has no June 8 primary challenger.
So, who among these candidates has been most aggressive in tackling the essence of the deficit and the budget challenge? So far, no one. The candidates may be able to get away with it between now and June 8th, but the voters will surely clamor for more specific and comprehensive answers with the approach of the Nov. 3 general election. Then the real sparks will fly.