For years, Democrats have called California Republicans the “Party of No” because almost all they ever did was say “no, no, no” to Democratic budget plans and even those of former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But suddenly this spring, two Republican state senators presented a seven-page list of 53 things they want done before they’ll help solve the budget quandary. Instantly, Brown and the Democrats said “No, no, no” and a couple of days later, Brown loudly announced that he’s finished negotiating with the GOP.
Brown complained the list was too long, asking the two senators, GOP leader Bob Dutton of San Bernardino County and Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, to be “reasonable and focus on what is possible, on issues we’ve been talking about…It’s not time for diversions.”
But maybe now is a time to reconsider and talk about some items the two Republicans brought to the table. It’s also sensible to view the GOP proposals as items for negotiation, a way for the minority party’s members to vote for a solution but still be able to tell their base voters they’ve been fiscally responsible.
In fact, if they’re smart and really interested in problem-solving, Brown and other Democrats will give strong consideration to some points in the Dutton-Huff agenda. For there are many that don’t appear to conflict with Democratic principles and could introduce greater fiscal responsibility to state government. Some examples:
• Republicans suggest basing pensions on the highest five years of a public employee’s pay, rather the three which Democrats seek to retain.
• Don’t allow double-dipping, as when some (not many) full-time employees draw both salary and a pension from the same publicly funded employer.
• Restore $10 million of state funding for Williamson Act contracts which guarantee that affected farmland will not be developed for at least 20 years, thus preserving open space and helping mitigate global warming.
• Move next year’s presidential primary election to March, where it has often been before, rather than holding it in June. A June date would give California Republicans almost no voice in picking their party’s nominee. Why not allow them that, and also move up the rest of the state’s primary voting to a consolidated March date?
These are just some of the items in the GOP wish list to which Brown and his fellow Democrats could easily accede without hurting themselves or their backers a bit.
In return, of course, the Democrats should expect Republicans to allow a special election vote this year on extending three tax increases passed as part of a budget compromise in February 2009. Those hikes to sales, vehicle and income taxes have cost the average California family about $28 per month. Brown needs the extension to avoid designing an all-cuts solution to the current budget deficit, which stands at a bit more than $10 billion even after Democrats passed a slew of budget bills last month chopping $14 billion from previous spending.
Agreeing to some of the Republican agenda, of course, doesn’t mean caving in to all of it. One thing Brown and his fellow Democrats would be foolish to go along with is gutting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which since the early 1970s has demanded thorough environmental studies before major development projects can go forward.
Republicans and the big-business lobby consistently claim that law costs the state thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenues. It may have cost some jobs — not many — and it definitely has delayed some developments. But it has also spared the state’s rivers from massive pollution and is one major reason air quality is far better today almost everywhere in California than it was 30 years ago.
But at the same time, some GOP items related to CEQA make sense. Why not, as Republicans suggest, dispense with most environmental studies when retrofitting abandoned “big box” stores, like the derelict former Gottshalk’s facilities in some Central Valley cities? Why not make it easier to get permits for urban in-fill building than for projects in areas never previously developed?
The bottom line: Some of the Republican agenda makes sense, even if as a whole it’s probably too extremely laissez faire and too tough on public employees to be considered either fair or environmentally sound.
By presenting the list, Republicans said they’re ready to negotiate. Brown and the Democratic legislative majority would be wise to reciprocate, and begin by cherry picking the wisest items from the GOP list.