Opinion Columns & Blogs

Our View: It didn't have to be this painful

The California Legislature had ducked a budget solution for so long that lawmakers -- at least the responsible ones -- had little choice but to pass a budget package that will be painful for most Californians.

Their inability to deal with the state's financial problems for eight months made the solution that came Thursday very costly.

Valley Republican lawmakers played a huge role in getting this deal done, but their courage will not be rewarded by their party because tax increases are part of the package. Three Valley Republicans stepped out of their party roles and did what was best for the entire state. We applaud them.

The tax increase will hurt, but not as much as the California economy going off the cliff because of state government bankruptcy.

Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto lost his GOP leadership post because of his role in negotiating the budget package, and providing one of three "yes" votes Thursday.

Sen. Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield also voted "yes," with Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria putting up the third "yes" vote in the Senate.

In the Assembly, Republican Leader Mike Villines of Clovis was one of the budget negotiators, and voted "yes" on the budget package. He has drawn the ire of many Republicans because of his willingness to take a stand. Villines deserves better.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should also be credited with keeping the negotiations going after it appeared a deal couldn't be made to get the two-thirds votes in both houses. Schwarzenegger proved to be patient, and that was good for the process. Compromise is not easy in a Legislature dominated by ideologues.

The final budget deal has about $12.8 billion in tax increases, including a 1-cent hike in the sales tax, a boost in the personal income tax rate and a higher vehicle license fee. There is also $15.1 billion in spending cuts. The remaining budget gap will be bridged with $11.4 billion in borrowing.

There also are significant legislative reforms, including an opportunity for voters to approve an open-primary bill that would lead to a more moderate Legislature. Maldonado would not vote for the budget package until the open primary was included. Maldonado also forced lawmakers to dump a 12-cent a gallon gasoline tax increase.

Ashburn's support came only after the Legislature agreed to include a provision for a $10,000 tax credit for those who buy new homes. That should help the ailing homebuilding industry. The credit would be available beginning in March and run through the end of 2010, according to news reports.

There is a lot of grumbling from the special interests, including the public employee unions and the anti-tax groups. But this is a compromise that shares the burden.

The tax increases and the spending cuts wouldn't have had to be this large if the Legislature had dealt with this problem when revenues began falling short. But lawmakers continued to spend beyond their means, and we are now paying for those excesses.