Rolling the Political Dice With the Budget

After $14 billion in painful cuts to the upcoming state budget, there remains a hole of another $12 billion.

Democratic governor Jerry Brown has failed to persuade Republicans in the state legislature to let the voters decide whether to continue three temporary taxes on income, sales, and motor vehicles this coming June.

As a result, the game of  chicken "California Style" is about to commence.

Each side has little to gain and much to lose as the July 1 fiscal year nears.

For Democrats, inability to keep the temporary taxes will leave them appearing as the majority who couldn't shoot straight, as the dominant group in the legislature that couldn't get the deal done because they wouldn't compromise with the Republicans on pensions, spending limits or something of value to the GOP. Along the way, the Democrats may well alienate labor to the point of getting little, if any financial help and voter support in next year's elections as payback for deserting the constituency.

For Republicans, forcing additional cuts in an already ravaged state budget leaves them vulnerable to claims of insensitivity to public education, seniors, the infirm and those struggling to hang on to what's left of the tattered safety net. Preventing the vote on continued temporary tax increases may win praise from fiscal conservatives, but may cost them dearly with independents who comprise more than one-third of the state's voters, many of whom will also view the ploy as downright undemocratic.

Meanwhile, as the stalemate continues, 30,000 layoff notices have gone out to teachers, the public universities and colleges are reeling from tuition sticker shock, and local governments have no way of planning anything from law enforcement to health care.

Regardless of the immediate outcome, there will be long-term consequences. The only remaining question is, which side will incur the most wrath? With so much at stake, 2012 promises to be one heck of a year. 

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