If records are meant to be broken, California is about to set a new distinction for itself, albeit dubious. As of Friday, the state will have the longest budget delay since the Department of Finance began keeping such records in the 1960s. And there's no sign of ending the deadlock.
The previous record, September 16, was set in 2008 after a contentious stalemate between Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic majority in the state lgislature. Other than that, no other delay had spilled over into September.
Now for the second time in three years, September has become the "new normal" for meeting the June 15 budget deadline. There is no obvious end game. Both the governor and state leaders have hinted dates like November and even next January.
For many people, this is a non-story. After all, the roads are open, hospitals are functioning, and schools are in session. So, what's the big deal?
The "big deal" occurs in ways, many subtle, that most of us don't see.
- the legislature has withheld nearly three billion dollars from public schools, which would use the funds to purchase supplies, hire crossing guards, and service equipment;
- the state controller has stopped paying vendors, who sell goods to the state, placing many small businesses in jeopardy of failing;
- the governor has furloughed state workers, which has led to long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies;
- the state has stopped paying operators of nursing homes and other facilities that house patients on state disability programs.
- California's precarious bond rating--already ranked 50th--has sunk even lower, which means higher interest when the state borrows money to pay its bills.
For many of us, these and other issues are removed from our daily lives. The budget is just a number. But for the college student who has had to put off attendance because he or she hasn't received an expected CalGrant financial aid package, the outcome is devastating.
So, why haven't the governor and legislature responded to these problems with a budget? The groups affected the most are among the least powerful in the state. They have no lobbyists; they aren't campaign contributors; they don't have the means to make their cases in large numbers. Stated another way, they are on the fringe of the power structure.
And so it goes. Until more people are directly impacted by the impasse, the stalemate will go on. One only wonders if there's a better way to run a state.
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