By Marianne Russ and John Sepulvado
July is nearly over and California still has no spending plan. In fact, there’s not even a budget deal in sight. State vendors aren’t getting paid. Neither are elected officials or their staffers. And some education programs aren’t being funded. But how much attention are Californians paying to the latest in a long line of budget stalemates? Depends whom you ask.
For reporters, whether or not there’s a state budget can be a big deal. It sort of rules our lives in the summer. But the leaders of California’s two major political parties say we’re in the minority.
“Hey, you know the budget’s late? Isn’t it always?” asks Democratic Party Chair John Burton. He says it’s not right, but the chronically late budgets don’t really register with most Californians.
“It’s a terrible thing, but unless you’re a state employee and you’re not getting paid, unless you’re one of the contractors, a local mental health group or somebody who’s getting paid by the state thing, it just goes right over your head,” Burton says.
This may be the only thing that Burton and the state’s Republican Party Chair, Ron Nehring agree on. Nehring says the political parties have their headquarters outside of Sacramento because that corresponds, as he puts it, “to the real world.” Near the Capitol, Nehring says Sacramento gets it wrong.
“Passing the budget on time, that is something that’s far more important within one kilometer of this building than it is anywhere outside of Sacramento” Nehring says. “That is complete inside baseball. It’s not to say it’s not important. That’s not to say that’s how the world should be. That’s just how the world is.”
Yet, if California’s political party leaders think people outside of Sacramento don’t care about the budget, they might want to spend some time talking to folks in Madera, Fresno and La Mesa.
“I’m disappointed in how they are handling it I don’t think they are handling it as well and as proactively as they could be,” says Clovis Resident Debra White.
“I’m not very happy with any of them. They are a letdown all the way,” says Ron Long of Fresno.
“Everything [about the budget] is very, very bad,” says Maria Cardenas of La Mesa.
In a very unscientific survey, Capital Public Radio spoke to about a dozen people from Fresno to Southern California. All of those folks expressed concern the budget had not been passed. This sampling stretched over political identification.
For example, Debra White is comfortable with increased state taxes to pay for services, while Long wants to see reduced taxes and a balanced budget. Cardenas’s big concern is school funding. None of the people surveyed knew the exact size of California’s budget, or how much money is needed to fill the gap, they all expressed disappointment.
Take Kandy Houston. She’s a private sector worker from Fresno, and she despises the idea of paying state workers minimum wage. That plan is proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger but so far has been delayed by the courts.
“I don’t know how they can do that, Houston says. “ If you’re going to pay minimum wage to professional people, and that’s what they are in a profession, then you’re going to get minimum wage workers. You can’t support a family on that.”
The latest field poll shows only a little over 20% of Californians approve of Governor Schwarzenegger, while only 16% approve of the State Legislature. Debra White says she disapproves because she can’t trust them to do what they say they are going to do. And a huge part of that distrust, White adds, were promises leaders would fix the state’s budget before crisis mode set in. You gotta do what you say you’re going to do, White says.