Brown and Schwarzenegger–Two Peas in a (Fiscal) Pod?

NBC Bay Area

Neither one would appreciate the comparison, but Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and his Republican predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger have a lot in common when dealing with the legislature on budget matters. 

During his term as governor, Schwarzenegger pressed the legislature repeatedly to reduce expenditures, often using his "blue pencil" to cut allocations when the budget bill hit his desk. 

Now Schwarzenegger's Democratic opposite, Jerry Brown, finds himself in the same quandary. For months, Brown has been demanding that the legislature pare expenditures now to minimize the runaway state budget deficit. And once again, the legislature has rejected the governor's lead.

All of this might have been understandable with Republican Schwarzenegger, who faced a legislature dominated by Democrats. But Democratic Governor Brown and the still-Democratic legislature are supposed to be on the same page. But they're not.  

Matters have become so tense between the two policy making bodies that last week Brown challenged the legislature to "man up" to its responsibilities, an invective similar to Schwarzenegger chastising his legislative opponents for being "girlie men."

So what produces this animus, regardless of political party affiliation?

Much of the clash is due to their different responsibilities. As governor, Brown must look at the big picture. 

That means proposing solutions in areas that affect almost everyone. Public education, infrastructure, and social programs are some of the big ticket items that come to mind. When revenues lag, these areas immediately surface because they require the most dollars.

The legislature has different responsibilities. Not only must that body pull the funding trigger, but members are sure to feel the pressure from the relatively small districts of voters to whom they are accountable. In other words, they must deal with the reaction to reductions much more than the governor.

One answer, of course, would be to raise taxes, something that would alleviate the stress on both sides. But the voters have been resistant to such an approach, leaving Brown and the legislature in a tight spot.

With new taxes off the table in the short term, Brown, like Schwarzenegger, is pursuing the only other course: spending cuts. Meanwhile, the legislature is hoping for a miracle in the form of greater than expected revenues in the last three months of the fiscal year.

They have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Almost every month for the past nine months the state controller has reported expenditures higher than expected and revenues lower than anticipated. That's a lousy combination, which has led to Brown's demands.

One way or another, the state will hit a deficit wall on July 1.  The only question is, how much?

Which leaves us recalling Thomas Jefferson's famous axiom, "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today."

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