When Pressure Is On, Partisan Walls Fall

With a budget deadline approaching, California lawmakers can learn a thing or two from the Nevada Legislature on finding common ground.
by | June 8, 2011

Maybe California should take a page from Nevada's playbook: After 120 days of partisan bickering, the 76th session of the Nevada Legislature reached a deal to extend $620 million in existing taxes for two years to balance a $6.2 billion general fund, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

It wasn't unanimous (Assembly vote: 36-6; Senate vote: 15-6). But in the end, the majority backed Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who broke his promise not to raise taxes. The taxes -- on business payrolls, retail sales and car registrations -- had been set to expire June 30.

The final push came last week after Sandoval decided that a May 26 Supreme Court decision ruled out his two-year spending plan to balance the budget using $657 million in local government and school district funds.

"It's probably a date none of us will ever forget," Republican Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, told the Review-Journal after supporting the tax extension. "A decision to vote for the budget is not an easy one for me, but it will put our state on a path toward fiscal stability."

Not to say it was a flawless victory. Several social programs were cut, including an $11.4 million program to give property tax rebates to poor senior citizens. Local governments also will have to foot about $14 million in programs regarding the care and protection of children. Under the budget, teachers and state workers will get a 2.5 percent pay cut.

But in Nevada, at least, California lawmakers have an example of what it looks like to find common ground. With the June 15 deadline for a California budget right around the corner, lawmakers have equally tough decisions to make. They should be motivated by this bit of information from California's state controller: If they fail to close the budget gap, lawmakers will start losing their pay on June 15.

"In passing Proposition 25 last November, voters clearly stated they expect their representatives to make the difficult decisions needed to resolve any budget shortfalls by the mandatory deadline, or be penalized," state Controller John Chiang said in a statement. "I will enforce the voters' demand."

It's no surprise that California Gov. Jerry Brown supported Chiang's not-a-threat-but-a-promise stance. Of course, the partisan dynamics in California are different than in Nevada. But the fact is that this type of pressure helps push collaboration, especially when political futures hang in the balance. Per the Christian Science Monitor:

Yet five days before that deadline, a new bipartisan commission (created by a 2008 ballot initiative) will release California's new redistricting map, which could radically alter the character of some lawmakers' districts. Overnight, some who are currently in Republican strongholds could find themselves scrambling to win Democratic votes -- and vice versa. The result: a wait-and-see approach toward the budget.

"I absolutely think the drawing of these maps is having a huge effect on what's going on," says Mike Zimmerman, chief of staff for Republican Assemblyman Martin Garrick. "A lot of focus has been diverted by those trying to figure out how their possible votes will affect their future constituents."

Only time will tell if and how these changes factor into the debate, but if California lawmakers need inspiration, they don't have to look too far.


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