California Gov. Jerry Brown has thrown in the towel in his talks with the "Rogue Five" Republicans, apparently dooming his plan to bring a tax-increase/tax-extension referendum to the ballot in June. That ballot initiative can still happen in November without Republican support, which may be too late for Brown to make good on his "No new taxes without voter approval" pledge for this year's budget.
If these negotiations seemed like kabuki, that's because they were. Brown in a statement condemned Republicans – who last Friday presented a list of 53 demands that were no sooner mentioned than dismissed – for their intransigence on the tax proposal:
The budget plan that I put forth is balanced between deep cuts and extensions of currently existing taxes and I believe it is in the best interest of California. Under our constitution, however, two Republicans from the Assembly and two from the Senate must agree before this matter can be put to the people.
Each and every Republican legislator I've spoken to believes that voters should not have this right to vote unless I agree to an ever changing list of collateral demands.
Let me be clear: I support pension reform, regulatory reform and a spending cap and offered specific and detailed proposals for each of these during our discussions. While we made significant progress on these reform issues, the Republicans continued to insist on including demands that would materially undermine any semblance of a balanced budget.
The roundup of Republican blaming gets more hilarious as you go along. Here are three choice examples, and here is State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) treating the impasse to his particular brand of weltschmerz:
In the other house, Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) faults the GOP for demanding "tax cuts for huge, out-of-state corporations, and other costly proposals that would have put a four billion dollar hole in the budget."
The only thing missing from this Republican crime spree is Republicans. As I pointed out in the March issue of Reason, the Democrats control everything in California except the weather. The only thing they can't get is an easy two-thirds majority – but even this is a minor issue because the voters approved an initiative in November lowering the budget-passing legislative threshold from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority. California Republicans can barely win an election, let alone an extended budget negotiation.
You can see that in the responses from the GOP. One of the Rogue Five, State Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), claims Republicans were willing to play ball on the tax increase in exchange for a spending cap, pension reform and (watch your wallet) "measures to spur job creation." New California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro – whose appointment is so far shaping up as the first smart move the GOP has made in a while – compares Brown's inaction on reducing state bureaucracy unfavorably with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's. The funny thing is that, like all Republican activity in California, these comments matter as much as the proverbial gaseous evacuation during inclement weather.
The funnier thing is that you're not allowed to say in public that the Democrats own the state. A few months back Steinberg took revenge on Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Oakdale) for making the uncontroversially true observation that the budget is "really not our problem. The Democrats own this." Today, Steinberg expanded on that sentiment, saying of the Republicans, "They appear to want to be irrelevant."
No, Darrell, they are irrelevant. While it would be nice to see more competitive politics in the Golden State, the Republicans' Babylonian exile is not worth shedding any tears over. But it does create a perception problem that is also, peskily enough, a reality problem: You can't keep blaming Republicans who aren't there. In the most narrow, technical sense the GOP helped keep the tax referendum off the June ballot. That referendum has been steadily losing public support, and with good reason: We pay these people six-figure salaries, and we even pay their staffers six-figure salaries, so that we don't have to vote every three months.