Saturday, August 11, 2007


by Dan Walters – Sacramento Bee Columnist

Friday, August 10, 2007 - It's been six weeks since the 2007-08 fiscal year began and three weeks since the Assembly passed a state budget. If anything, however, the stalemate in the Senate appears to be hardening and could set a record.

This week's exchanges of public verbiage seem to narrow the chances of compromise even further.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata insisted anew that he would not negotiate with Republicans on imposing curbs on Attorney General Jerry Brown's unilateral crusade on global warming. "I will not bargain away California's environment to oil refiners and multistate developers," Perata declared at a press conference attended by representatives of environmental groups.

Perata said that the Senate would not take up any non-budget legislation until the impasse is resolved. Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez warned Republicans that if the budget is not passed, he'll reopen it and strip out concessions he had made to gain GOP votes in the Assembly.

Republican senators had been demanding spending cuts to bring the budget into operational balance, but the Brown demand emerged as the most important sticking point after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged to veto enough spending to balance the budget.

Republicans contend that Brown is unfairly suing, or threatening to sue, local governments and others to force them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even through the Air Resources Board has not issued rules under last year's anti-global warming law.

Senate GOP leader Dick Ackerman says that Brown's crusade will undermine new highways and other construction from the $42 billion in infrastructure bonds passed by voters last year. Brown, however, says it makes sense for local governments to lower emissions now, rather than wait years for ARB rules, and is not trying to stop development. Schwarzenegger, who championed last year's law, is caught in the middle, agreeing that Brown should be curbed but wanting a budget without restrictions.

It's a fine mess that not only delays the budget but also threatens to torpedo Schwarzenegger's and Democrats' hopes for image-enhancing action on health care expansion, redistricting reform, water development and other issues.

Schwarzenegger is not only seeing his second-term agenda fading but also his image as an effective "post-partisan" politician tarnished. He needs just one more Republican vote for the budget. But he has been unable to cajole someone to provide it -- and has been vacationing out of state this week.

Núñez made budget concessions to prevent a prolonged stalemate that would alienate voters and make them less likely to modify legislative term limits next year and thus allow Núñez and Perata to extend their legislative careers, but it went for naught.

Ackerman, meanwhile, has maintained remarkable unity, despite the defection of one senator -- the proof being the growing frustration among Democrats and in the Governor's Office. Although Ackerman had been under fire for being too cozy with Schwarzenegger and Democrats and retained his leadership position by a single vote, his mild-mannered stubbornness has made him a force.

Núñez and Perata may say they won't negotiate further, but they have almost no capacity to force Republicans to budge, given their safe districts and their lack of personal stakes in the budget's details. Perata's declaration that he won't take up other legislation until the budget is passed is music to Republican ears since the legislation is, for the most part, being carried by liberal Democrats. And were Núñez to make good on his budget threat, it would widen the deficit even more.

It brings to mind the old saying about the most dangerous person being the one without anything to lose.

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