Thursday, June 11, 2015

From Big 5 to Big 3 to No Deal

The way it was
Back in the day, before California voters dropped the requirement that state budgets had to be passed by two thirds in both houses, budget deals were worked out by what was called the "Big 5." The Big 5 consisted of the majority and minority leaders of the two houses plus the governor. (You always needed an accord with the minority to get to two thirds.)

After we went to a simple majority to enact budgets, deal making was confined to what might be called the Big 3: the Democratic leaders of the two houses - since Republicans had lost their clout - plus the governor. Now comes word that the legislative leaders plan to enact a budget by the constitutional deadline of June 15 without reaching any agreement with the governor.* Their budget will differ from the governor's, as we have noted in prior posts, by incorporating more optimistic revenue forecasts and larger appropriations.

Gov. Brown could veto the whole package - it happened once before under odd circumstances - or use line-item vetoes. Since he can't veto revenue assumptions, presumably line-item spending vetoes would produce larger reserves projected in the general fund. If he were to veto the entire package, the legislature would have no obligation to come to a new deal with him by July 1. As long as the legislature passes a budget by June 15 - regardless of what the governor does with it - it has completed its constitutional obligation and its members will be paid. So a complete veto of the whole thing could conceivably bring us back to the bad old days in which there was no budget as of July 1 - something the governor would surely not want to see. Budget crises are a quick way to drop gubernatorial popularity into a ditch.

As for why there is no accord between the governor and the Democrats in the legislature, there are various explanations that might be offered. But amateurism (term limits and all that) is likely part of the story.

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