How About a Dance Off to Solve the Budget?

No one in California agrees on what should be in the budget, but everyone agrees we need a budget soon.

Schools and universities and health clinics are in limbo, because they don't know how much money they'll have next year.

And the small arguments about temporary taxes and narrow reforms are gobbling up time and attention that should be devoted to bigger debates about how to fix the budget system itself.

But even though we all need a quick budget, a quick budget seems impossible. The legislature is divided, and thus stuck, unable to reach agreement on a deal that includes the temporary tax increases the majority Democrats want.

The governor wants to tie an election -- which could effectively delay the budget into the late fall, or even next year. California needs a break in this impasse and clear answers about the budget now. How to do it?

Watching TV Tuesday night, the answer became clear: Why not a dance contest?

It could be staged immediately, Dancing With the Stars-style, with judges and voters issuing their verdict. Each of the three main players in the budget -- the legislative Democrats, the legislative Republicans, and Gov. Brown -- could offer their budget to the public in the form of interpretitive dance. The contest would be televised, and decided right that night.

Yes, a dance contest, as a way to resolve a budget dispute, may seem silly -- but it's not as silly as what we're doing right now.

Here's silly: this state is carrying on a to-the-death political argument about a one-cent temporary sales tax -- something most voters didn't notice when it was approved in 2009 -- at a moment when its schools are failing and its unemployment rate is among the highest in the country.

And here's very silly: letting the party that lost last year's elections badly hold up the budget (because of its leverage under California's requirements of a two-thirds vote for additional revenues) until its very ransom demands are met. A dance contest sure beats a hostage negotiation as a model for how to resolve a budget. 

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