Let's face it: the more that the state budget's constitutional deadline starts to come into view on the horizon, the fuzzier the status of negotiations -- and the ultimate ending of the saga -- become at the Capitol.
The state Senate's budget committee is in session this afternoon to begin sending portions, but not all, of the Democratic legislative spending plan to the Senate floor. But there remains no sign of movement on either the part of Gov. Jerry Brown or Democratic leaders on hundreds of millions of dollars in disputed social services spending.
And so when it comes to the eventual path forward... welcome to the state Capitol's version of 50 shades of gray.
What's Left to Negotiate? The list may have narrowed a bit, given Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's mid-morning comments to reporters. Steinberg said Democrats and Brown are now "a couple of hundred million dollars" apart. He also specifically noted the marquee fight over welfare assistance funding and child care subsidies for the working poor... but did not mention the other two areas that were highlighted as recently as Wednesday: financial aid for college students (Cal Grants) and In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS).
Spokespeople for both the governor and Democrats declined to elaborate on Steinberg's remark. So consider that still a gray area.
What's Public and Transparent? Republicans are making hay over the fact that the specific language of the budget proposals already agreed upon didn't become public until just this morning. Democrats have said several times over the last few weeks that they'd like to put proposals in print for 48 hours, but also made no ironclad promises. Some of this is Capitol tradition -- you don't release a controversial plan early enough for interest groups to pick it apart and cajole enough legislators to oppose it. But GOP senators say this is an extreme example of that tradition, and have decided to boycott this afternoon's Senate committee hearing and, possibly, tomorrow's floor session. Democrats say they've done the best they can, and provided an overview document of the bills up for consideration this morning.
What's the Deadline? This is a particularly murky area, at least when it comes to the difference in what the public perceives and what the letter of the law says.
Proposition 25, the 2010 initiative that ostensibly put some teeth in the deadline (created by voters in 1970) of June 15, says failing to send a budget to the governor by midnight of that day shall result in legislators forfeiting pay for every day of delay.
But here's the thing: the budget is not a single piece of legislation, but an overview framework bill (the budget bill itself) and multiple implementing documents called 'trailer bills.'
And Prop 25 only places the burden of passing "the budget bill" by midnight June 15.
Senate leader Steinberg told reporters this morning that 'trailer bills' that include the proposals still in dispute will not be brought up for a vote. Which leads to the possibility that the negotiations over a complete budget package could continue... beyond tomorrow night.
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