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Rock and A Hard Place: From his perch on the Assembly's emergency budget committee, District 27 Rep. Bill Monning gets to experience firsthand Republican intransigence and gubernatorial strong-arming.

Stubborn in Sacramento

Central Coast Assemblyman Bill Monning gets a lesson in the politics of intractability.

By Traci Hukill

In his long career as a negotiator, District 27 Assemblymember Bill Monning has seen some contentious disputes: between farmworkers and owners, aggrieved community members and sheriffs, Israelis and Palestinians. So when he shows his exasperation over the state's budget stalemate, you know it's bad.

Tomorrow night Gov. Schwarzenegger will deliver his State of the State address, and along with it the well-publicized bad news that California still has no budget. If recent press conferences are any indication, he'll assign equal blame to Democrat and Republican lawmakers, scold them both for being beholden to special interests and then propose his own fix. And Monning, a freshman Democrat who sits on the Assembly's emergency budget committee, will have a hard time swallowing that.

What sticks in Monning's craw is that while the Democrats are making tough choices and incurring the wrath of the party faithful in the name of progress on the budget, Republicans are just saying no--to everything. "We've just reached a point where we gave and gave and gave and got absolutely zero reciprocation," Monning says.

On one side of the Dems are the GOP legislators, who have refused to countenance any new taxes at all, no matter how large the deficit looms ($42 billion by June 2010) or how quickly collapse approaches (in February the state runs out of cash). California's two-thirds majority requirement on new taxes allows them this luxury. "Over a third of the elected officials in California are not engaging," Monning fumes. "They're only pushing the red button. They won't agree to any tax, anywhere, anytime."

On the other side is the governor, who Monning says wants to use the budget stalemate to weaken unions and environmental protections. While Schwarzenegger acknowledges the need for new taxes--his own budget proposal contains $15 billion in new revenue--last week he vetoed the Democrats' proposed budget. The problem was not that its $18 billion deficit fix contained $9 billion in new taxes, but that it didn't contain enough economic stimulus.

Democrats say that's Arnoldese for weakening labor and CEQA standards. Schwarzenegger's own budget (which closes $41.7 billion worth of the deficit gap, twice as much as the Democrats' plan) proposes furloughing public employees two days a month and bypassing environmental review on 10 big transportation projects currently hung up in court. "Here's a guy who is praised as the environmental governor and he's trying to use the budget crisis to erode important achievements in the area of environmental protections," Monning says.

As of presstime Tuesday, negotiations among Democratic and Republican lawmakers and the governor were set to resume.

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