Tired of Trying to Read Between the Lines: Still No Answer to What Republicans Want in the Line Items of the California Budget7 min read

Mike-Villines-on-Assembly-F.gif Assemblymember John Laird had one of the most memorable lines of the budget debate 11 days ago while dealing with a Republican motion for an immediate vote on the conference committee budget. Knowing that the budget would have been voted down then with no Republican voting for it and having been criticized in the past for having “drills” (useless votes on an issue when the results are foreordained), he said “The voters of California have been taken hostage but we can’t get a ransom note”.

He still doesn’t have that note.

Yesterday afternoon and evening, Republican Assemblymembers got the opportunity to debate a proposed compromise on the state budget. They’re still not happy. And despite the 5 hours of debate, during which 49 Assemblymembers (including Republican leader Mike Villines, pictured, right) raised their mikes and spoke on the budget, I defy anyone to say what it is exactly that the Republicans want in the budget. You can watch the entire debate or portions of it on your computer—the remarks on the floor are recorded for posterity on the Cal Channel.

It reminds me of that old question, what does the dog who chases the car do when he (or she) actually catches it. Republicans had their chance last night to lay out for all to see what exactly their budget proposal is for all Californians to see. They were asked repeatedly by the Democratic speakers to detail what cuts they want in the budget. They ducked that question.

There were grand declarations—on both sides—of principles and other abstractions. But to quote Walter Mondale, “Where’s the beef?”

Republicans spent far too much of their time whining–talking about being mistreated as the minority party—and dancing around the meat and potato issues here.

To give just one example out of the debate—which had its moments. About 4 hours into the debate, Democratic freshman Mike Eng spoke, and told Republican members that his office door was open and he wanted to hear what ideas they had that were not being allowed to discuss. Eng said in his remarks, “I think we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve gotten all the angst out.”

He was followed in the debate, which alternated between Democratic and Republican speakers, by Republican Joel Anderson, who seems like a likeable fellow and apparently heard Eng, but needed to get some stuff off his chest. Here is what Anderson said, with a bit of my editorial comment:

“It’s a little hard to speak following my colleague who is so well spoken, but I still have angst. It’s going to take a little bit longer. You’re going to have to listen a little more.

“Last week, I repeatedly asked this body—show me your budget vote. And tonight we’re going to see that vote and for that I thank you. But more importantly, I thank you for the debate we are having today because this is the first honest debate, the first honest discussion that I am aware of that we’ve had.

“Perhaps you ask yourself, “honest debate, honest conversation, what does he mean?” It’s an honest conversation because no one has killed our ideas or stacked a committee or killed our ideas in the dark of a committee that’s been stacked.”

I ask what the debates have been in the dozens of budget committee hearings and subcommittee hearings. These are not held in the dark, but in public. This committee has a majority of Democrats—but that is reflective of the makeup of the body—the result of the vote of the people. And it’s hard to tell what “ideas” he is referring to since in his speech, aside from ACA 19 the so called “cap” constitutional amendment (which has a lot of other non-budget stuff in it, including “correcting” a California Supreme Court decision that is 11 years old) it is hard to tell exactly what his ideas are for the budget itself that are being ignored.

“Now the people of California are hearing Republicans want real reform. …

“Now we’re going to learn a few things. How many Democrats are going to vote for this budget, which is very important to negotiations. I’m an empirical guy. You know, people tell me a lot of things. I want to feel it, I want to touch it, I want to see it. When we see your votes go up, we’ll know how serious you are. And when you see our votes go up, you’ll see how serious we are.

“That’s part of the problem, the disconnect that I’ve seen and part of the failure of the leadership to come together on this. Because I don’t feel we’re part of the negotiations.”

“The negotiation has to be a two way street. You can’t dictate this budget to us. Had we seen this empirical vote a month ago, we might be further along in negotiations.”

Is that what this is all about—how serious the sides are, what their votes are? How can you negotiate without stating what it is that you want?

We now have the results in: 45 votes for the budget, all Democrats. 30 votes against, all Republicans. Not voting, Democrat Nell Soto and Sharon Runner, who are both ill and with medical excuses; Democrat Nicole Parra, who demands a water bond be passed for her to vote for the budget; Democrat Alberto Torrico, who undoubtedly will vote for a budget and I believe was absent; and Republican Greg Aghazarian, who is in a tight Senate race in the fall and doesn’t want to incur the wrath of the voters in the district. Where does that get us?

“You know, you are the majority. We are the minority party. You set the rules. You tell us what we can talk on. You tell us how long we can talk and you tell us how many speakers we can use—except for tonight—you let it go wide open, and for that I thank you. I guess what I’m really asking is to stop the rhetoric and act like the majority and lead California. Lead in a bipartisan way that will include Republican priorities so all Californians are represented.”

I’m sorry, but this idea that Democrats are somehow muzzling debate is just an excuse. There have been plenty of opportunity for Republicans to speak in committee hearings, on the floor of the Assembly, and to hold press conferences, and otherwise articulate their views. We still don’t know what they are proposing for this year’s budget.

The same thing happened last year, and the Senate had an all night session without Republican Senators voting for the budget. Finally, an exasperated Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, told them that he did not know what they wanted and asked them to come up with an alternative budget and try to get Democratic votes. He gave them time, but the Republican budget never materialized.

Republicans, please, stop playing the victim. It’s late, but give the Democrats and the rest of us, your proposed budget so we can have a real honest debate on the specifics. It’s time to put up, not shut up. And I hope you are getting your angst out. Who knows, it might be cathartic to let Californians know what you are really thinking.