California Slides Into The Sea

It sounds as though California is finally melting down politically:

“The state of California — its deficits ballooning, its lawmakers intransigent and its governor apparently bereft of allies or influence — appears headed off the fiscal rails.

Since the fall, when lawmakers began trying to attack the gaps in the $143 billion budget that their earlier plan had not addressed, the state has fallen into deeper financial straits, with more bad news coming daily from Sacramento. The state, nearly out of cash, has laid off scores of workers and put hundreds more on unpaid furloughs. It has stopped paying counties and issuing income tax refunds and halted thousands of infrastructure projects.

Twenty-thousand layoff notices will go out on Tuesday morning, Matt David, the communications director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said Monday night. “In the absence of a budget we need to realize this savings and the process takes six months,” Mr. David said.

After negotiating nonstop from Saturday afternoon until late Sunday night on a series of budget bills that would have closed a projected $41 billion deficit, state lawmakers failed to get enough votes to close the deal and adjourned. They returned to the Capitol on Monday morning and labored into the evening but still failed to reach a deal. They planned to reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday to go at it again.

California has also lost access to much of the credit markets, nearly unheard of among state municipal bond issuers. Recently, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s bond rating to the lowest in the nation.

California’s woes will almost certainly leave a jagged fiscal scar on the nation’s most populous state, an outgrowth of the financial triptych of above-average unemployment, high foreclosure rates and plummeting tax revenues, and the state’s unusual budgeting practices. (…)

The roots of California’s inability to address its budget woes are statutory and political. The state, unlike most others, requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature to pass budgets and tax increases. And its process for creating voter initiatives hamstrings the budget process by directing money for some programs while depriving others of cash.

In a Legislature dominated by Democrats, some of whom lean far to the left, leaders have been unable to gather enough support from Republican lawmakers, who tend on average to be more conservative than the majority of California’s Republican voters and have unequivocally opposed all tax increases.”

They need three (3) Republican votes in each house. They can’t get them. And this despite the fact that the Republicans who have been negotiating have gotten a lot, including, according to the LATimes, “tax breaks for corporations”.

Really. I am not making this up. With the state budget $41 billion in deficit, Republicans held out for corporate tax cuts, and then aren’t even supporting the resulting bill.

One detail is particularly telling: they’re suspending a bunch of infrastructure projects. This is a bad idea in a recession, However, these aren’t just any job-producing, demand-enhancing, public safety-promoting projects:

“The projects, which include upgrades to 18 bridges and roads in Los Angeles to protect them from collapsing in earthquakes and cost $3.8 billion, had been allowed to continue operating as others were suspended because the state was running out of cash.

The projects to be suspended today had been exempted from a November order to stop public works because of the significant financial cost of canceling contracts, the expense of resuming them or the public-health or public-safety ramifications. The list also includes work to eliminate arsenic in the City of Live Oak and half-built highway construction projects.”

According to Calitics (h/t), it will cost California $191 million to shut the projects down, and $192 million to start them back up again once a deal is struck. So shutting down the government will mean spending nearly $400 million of taxpayers’ money for nothing, and all in the name of fiscal responsibility.

It’s been a while since I lived in Southern California. I remember some of the Southern California Republicans being a little on the nutty side. But this is flat-out insane.

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