California balances its checkbook, the hard way

Sure, public education gets creamed, and smart energy policy is thrown under the bus. But, hey, at least the state will continue to function.

By Andrew Leonard

Published February 19, 2009 3:05PM (EST)

After staying up into the wee hours Thursday morning, California finally has a budget, thanks to significant concessions granted to one Republican state senator, Abel Maldonado, who said, according to the Sacramento Bee, "I don't like the budget; I don't like the revenue increases, but I don't want California to fall off the cliff."

For those Californians who have children in public schools, however, there's still a distinct sensation of free fall. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "The proposal calls for the state to slash $15 billion in spending, including $8.6 billion from education."

Equally disgruntling, in return for his vote, Maldonado got Democrats to agree to get rid of a proposed 12 cent gas tax hike, which would have brought in another $2.1 billion over the next 18 months. "The money will be replaced with a 0.25 percent increase in the state income tax, federal stimulus dollars and more than $600 million in line-item vetoes," reported the Journal.

Nice. Personally, after having lived through $4.50-a-gallon prices last year, I'd hardly blink at a 12 cent jump right now, while I would appreciate the added benefit of encouraging Californians to invest in greater fuel economy, not to mention the help delivered in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Maldonado also received a huge concession that will directly aid his personal political future -- an agreement that future state elections will  incorporate "open primaries" in which the top two vote-getters, from any party, end up in a run-off. As a moderate Republican, Maldonado has a tough time winning Republican primaries for statewide office.

So, to recap: California has a budget. Sure, education is screwed and sound energy policy sacrificed, but Abel Maldonado's political future has never looked brighter. And that's how we roll, in the Golden State.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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