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Sacramento Talks Break Down - March 14, 2011




This morning, several thousand of our students rallied on the steps of the State Capitol. While the rain dampened their signs, it couldn't stifle their voices. Their chant of "Let the people vote" could be heard clearly in the Capitol's halls, according to our sources in the building.

Unfortunately, the positive rally was met with increasingly dire news from the Capitol.

Catching by surprise a Capitol community that had been captivated through the weekend by the events in Japan, Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway this morning told a Fresno radio station that Senate Republicans that had been negotiating with the governor had abandoned talks.

While this was immediately assumed to be part of the budget kabuki, the situation appeared more ominous as we looked into them.

The talks broke down over two significant issues--the length of the tax extension and the specifics of cap on state spending.

On the first issue, there had been a debate of whether the tax extensions would be for three of five years. Some argue that by extending the taxes for three years, Governor Brown would be held accountable should he seek reelection. Governor Brown argues that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst has identified a five-year gap averaging $20 billion, and his plan addresses that by a blend of spending cuts and tax extensions.

The latest is the statement by Republican Senator Tom Harman of Orange County, one of the five GOP senators negotiating with the governor, that he will only support an 18-month tax extension to address the existing $25.4 billion shortfall and nothing further. Labor groups expected to finance the campaign to approve the extensions say "why bother?" I have to admit, as we've been preparing to run a campaign to inform the voters of the choice ahead, that I somewhat agree. We are exhausted from this year-in, year-out problem and the last thing we want to do is repeat this agony in two years, even if it results in a devastating all-cuts budget.

The other issue is a cap on state spending. There have been lots of caps on state spending, and another one is scheduled for the ballot in June 2012. However, some conservatives see a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to dramatically reduce state spending. Because of the deep cuts to balance the budget over the last three years (including $800 million in general fund cuts to community colleges, including the governors proposal), if a spending cap is enacted now that limits expenditure growth to inflation and population growth, a major victory could be achieved for advocates of limited government.

The governor and Democrats have counter-proposed a spending cap for the period of the temporary taxes, but the proposal has been rejected and no middle ground proposal has found resonance.

Everyone around the Capitol was waiting for the governor to show his cards, as today is the day that the governor is required to call a special election to fill Jane Harman's congressional seat (CD36). Everyone was expecting him to call it for either June 7 or June 14 to indicate the status of budget negotiations. The county of Los Angeles has begged the governor to consolidate any statewide special election with that for the vacant congressional seat.

He just called it. For May 17 (with a July 12 runoff, if necessary).

That is the strongest indication yet that there won't be a special election, and the odds of an all-cuts budget may have just increased significantly. We aren't giving up yet, though, as we would even keep open the option of a non-voter-approved tax package.

This may be the governor's only term, and he might be willing to break his holiest vow--to oppose any tax increase not approved by the voters--if he could find a bipartisan solution to get California's finances back on track. But, that's akin to pouring seawater on fuel rods--do it and everything is history, including reelection chances. That said, the political career of any Republican that votes to let the voters decide is also likely over. A collective political suicide however may be exactly what it takes to get one of the worst periods of California governance behind us.

We will continue "tweeting" the latest at http://www.twitter.com/ccleague.

Finally, I've gotten some pushback from our Republican faculty, staff, trustees and students. That's fair. We have sounded pretty partisan lately. However, this morning I was reminded that, at our first March in March in 2003, we were in the midst of beating the heck out of Governor Gray Davis for disproportionate and unfair cuts to community colleges. I remember being part of a team circulating a censure petition of him at the Democratic convention. Over the years, our targets have been Democrats and Republicans, really whoever has not acted in the best interest of California and its community colleges.

As I grew up a Dodgers fan, I'm reminded of an analogy. We bleed neither Democratic Blue nor Republican Red. We simply bleed the palette of community colleges. And, I hope you'll join us with that same passion (like that of our staff members that were painting signs last night at the office, along with about 15 students from the Student Senate).

Keep up the fight.


Scott Lay
President and Chief Executive Officer, The League
Orange Coast College '94

Community College League of California
2017 O Street, Sacramento, California 95811
916.444.8641 . www.ccleague.org

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Last Updated: 3/14/11