With no agreement in sight on how to close the state’s remaining $15.4 billion deficit, some Democrats are discussing targeting GOP districts with steeper cuts if legislative Republicans will not vote for a solution that includes taxes.
“You don’t want to pay for government, well then, you get less of it,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters Wednesday.
If other options fail, the Sacramento Democrat said he is willing to consider a targeted cuts approach like one laid out by Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who has suggested that an all-cuts state budget should focus on the districts of lawmakers who oppose putting $11 billion in tax extensions before voters.
“When it comes to kids or the vulnerable, I wouldn’t want to make distinctions between who lives in a Democratic district and who lives in a Republican district, but when it comes to sort of basic services, convenience services that affect adults … I have an open mind,” he told reporters after speaking at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon.
Whether the strategy is a serious option or a scare tactic intended to push Republicans to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal is yet to be seen. But some Republicans weren’t taking it seriously.
“Quite frankly, it sounds like an April Fool’s joke,” said former Assemblyman Roger Niello, a Fair Oaks Republican who served as vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. “I have no idea how they would do this even if they’re serious about it.”
Republican Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, the vice chair of the Senate Budget Committee, called the tactic “just nuts.”
“I don’t think what they were saying was a realistic solution,” he said. “Everything they are doing right now is focusing on making Republicans feel heat.”
If putting pressure on Republicans is the goal, Butte County Supervisor Larry Wahl said he refuses to take the bait.
“That is shameless extortion,” he said. “He’s trying to get me to call (Assemblyman Dan) Logue and (state Sen.) Doug LaMalfa and say ‘Raise our taxes.’ I’m not going to do that.”
Trinity County Supervisor Roger Jaegal said targeted cuts would be “a disaster for rural counties,” where people are already feeling the pain of decreased service levels.
But Jaegal, who has no problem with putting taxes to a vote of the people, dismissed the threat of uneven services as “politics as usual.”
“We need jobs, we need employment, but we don’t need to be a political pawn,” he said.
Neither Lockyer nor Steinberg have identified exactly what type of services could be affected or how such cuts would be made. But with Brown saying the only acceptable alternative to putting taxes on the ballot would be an all-cuts budget, they said it was only fair to put targeted reductions on the table.
“It’s really a simple concept,” said Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar. “If we have to adopt an all-cuts budget because voters aren’t even given the chance to decide the tax issue, then we engage in another democratic process. The folks who want less government get less government. It’s not vindictive, it’s democracy in action.”
Republicans said blame for an all-cuts approach should be placed on the Democrats, who have been slow to support GOP proposals like a tough spending cap and changes to the public employee pension and regulatory systems.
“We gave them a path,” Huff said. “They didn’t like the pathway, so they can’t lay it on our feet.”
Steinberg, who has also introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for local governments to raise taxes to fund key services, said he hopes to see budget talks intensify in coming weeks after Brown unveils his revised spending plan in mid-May.
While Steinberg said he believes a deal will be reached before the June 15 legislative deadline for passing a budget, he said he is raising alternative scenarios in an attempt to avoid the effect an “abhorrent” all-cuts budget would have on education and other services.