Perhaps faith leaders who gathered at the state capitol this week had the right idea — a prayer — in response to increasing anxiety about our state budget. Today is the deadline for legislators to pass a budget, and on Tuesday hundreds gathered in Sacramento for a rally and prayer in support of a budget that will spare the anticipated cuts to education and social services.
The rally was held on the Capitol’s south steps and organized by a coalition of faith-based and community groups called PICO California. They urged lawmakers to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal that the Legislature approve extending higher tax rates temporarily and set an election to ask the voters to decide at a later date whether to approve them for a longer period of time.
“We’re here because we believe balancing the budget is the moral thing to do,” the Rev. Sharon Stanley, of Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, told the crowd. “And supporting the hopes and aspirations of the young people that we love and sharing responsibility for caring for them and caring for the poor is the moral thing to do.”
The budget deadline comes on the same day as new Field Poll results showing that support for both Governor Brown and his tax extension proposal are slipping among Californians surveyed, though a majority would still vote to approve the tax extensions. Many who were previously undecided about the tax extension plan now say they will vote against it – up from 21% March to 31% today. 52% said they would vote in favor of a tax extension to close the remaining $9.6 billion budget deficit. Brown’s approval rating slipped just two points to 46%.
In spite of the new poll, Democratic lawmakers remain focused on passing something to send to the governor’s desk by the end of the day, to ensure their paychecks keep coming. Major cuts to education and other public services play a significant role in the budget proposal reportedly being pushed by Democratic leaders.
Crafted without Republican input or support — and earning GOP ire — the proposal would rely on policymaking maneuvers to raise the levies, according to Assembly staff members involved in the process. That way, it could pass without the GOP votes typically needed to increase taxes. Under a new law, legislators’ pay is cut off if they miss the June 15 budget deadline.
Having slashed billions in spending earlier this year, mostly from programs for the poor, the Democrats would close much of the remaining deficit with the sort of accounting sleight-of-hand that for years has merely papered over California’s fiscal shortfalls. It is not clear whether Gov. Jerry Brown will sign such a budget; he vowed not to do so during his campaign.
The lawmakers openly admitted that their plan, which many rank-and-file Democrats learned of Tuesday afternoon, was their distant second choice. They said stiff Republican opposition to Brown’s proposal to renew higher income, vehicle and sales taxes forced their hand. Brown wants lawmakers to extend those taxes to close the deficit until a public referendum on them can be held in the fall.
“If there was a glimmer of hope that if we waited until Friday, or Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week, that we could get the better solution with Republicans votes, obviously we wouldn’t be taking this up,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles). “But that glimmer isn’t out there right now.”
This is the first budget deadline since voters empowered the Legislature to pass a spending plan with a simple majority vote and threatened to take away their pay for being late. If approved by both houses Wednesday, the Democrats’ plan would mark only the second time lawmakers have met the constitutional deadline in a quarter-century.
To see highlights of the Democrats’s budget plan, click here. California Forward will closely follow the budget process as it continues.