A Profile in Dysfunction

The decision by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation to give a "Profile in Courage" award to the legislative leaders who negotiated the February 2009 budget deal was head-scratching.

The deal they reached -- which included difficult spending cuts, temporary tax increases, and a host of goodies to purchase the votes of the handful of Republican legislators needed to close the deal -- was more necessity than triumph.

The Kennedy folks, though, wanted to give credit for the political risk involved in making the deal, and there they have something of a point. The two Republican legislative leaders who negotiated the deal, Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill and Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines, lost their leadership posts as a result.

The legislators did the best they could. But their deal should not be celebrated. To the contrary, the whole episode shows how dysfunctional California is.

Consider: in November 2008, California voters cast their ballots for the Democratic majority in the legislature. Immediately, because of the requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass a budget, those Democrats had to solve a budget and cash crisis -- by trying to convince the Republicans they just had beaten at the polls to help them out. As part of the February 2009 deal that earned the lawmakers the "Profile in Courage," those Republicans extracted a high price for the handful of votes needed -- including a $2 billion corporate tax cut and the promise to put the "top two" primary measure, Prop 14, on the June 2010 ballot.

That might have been the end of things, but many pieces of the budget deal altered existing constitutional provisions and voter-approved initiatives. In California, such changes must be ratified by the people -- which required six separate measures be submitted to voters on May 2009. The voters, who only seven months earlier had installed the legislature that made the deal, turned down five of the six measures.

That three-step procedure -- elect a legislative majority, then force that majority to get the minority's approval for a budget, then vote down the compromise that the majority you elected made -- is a demonstration not of courage, but of the madness of California's governing system.

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