Lock Them in Until it Passes

Theyended the lockdown too soon in Sacramento.

For a few insane reasons, the Legislature worked late Sunday night after marathonweekend sessions led to missed Valentine's Day dates and naps at desks, butstill no state budget agreement.

TheAssembly's ready to pass it. The holdup: The endless "Where's Waldo?"hunt for one senator who will join Republican leader Dave Cogdill ofModesto and Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield in voting "yes" on theagreement. Except in this case, it's starting to appear that Waldo's not evenin the picture.

"I'venegotiated it to the point where I think it doesn't get any better," Cogdillsaid Wednesday. This weekend, Cogdill even offered to resign as minorityleader though his caucus rejected it, according to TheLos Angeles Times.

So theSenate Republicans don't want to vote for the budget, but they don't want tochange leaders. What exactly do they want, other than a budget deal with no taxincreases?

Inexchange for his support, Ashburn won a $10,000 tax break for new homebuyers, aprovision that's no more stimulus in Californiathan it is at the federal level when the flood market of existing homes istaken into consideration.

For awhile, it looked like Lou Correa, a waffling Democrat from Santa Ana elected on a no-tax pledge, mightbe Waldo. Saturday, lawmakers quickly added a provision to the packagethat would would give Orange County $35 million in additional property taxrevenues in the coming fiscal year; $35 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year, andup to $50 million annually after that, accordingto The Sacramento Bee.

Correa'svote is crucial on the Democratic side because Cogdill says he won't give upmore than the minimum three "yes" votes needed from Republicans.

Later,Fair Oaks Republican Dave Cox was a potential Waldo after negotiators agreed tolet him offer amendments to redo the Proposition 10 child development programs, theBee reported early Sunday. Even after much love and attention from SenatePresident Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Coxremained in the "no" column.

Next upon the Waldo list: Abel Maldonado. In exchange for his vote, the Santa MariaRepublican wanted nonpartisanstate primary elections. It's a truly laudable goal, but is now the timeand place?

Andhere's the overarching problem: Once Steinberg had to start playing "Let'sMake A Deal" with his own members, all bets were off.

He andthe other BigFive negotiators were on shaky ground with the public and the rest of theLegislature anyway because of the way the super-secret talks were conducted:Out of sight and with no input from the public. No input from the rest of theLegislature either, for that matter.

The thingis, though, Cogdill is right about the resulting compromise: It's as good as itgets.

In orderto accept that, though, lawmakers have to reconcile themselves to themodern-day definition of compromise. It's not longer about getting a little bitof what you want -- that definition flew out the door for families the secondthe housing bubble started to burst.

Thesedays, it's more about accepting a little bit of something odious in exchangefor knowing the other side is doing the same.

In thecase of the budget, liberalsare being asked to swallow loosened environmental reviews and big corporatetax breaks. Republicans are being asked to put philosophical purity aside andapprove tax hikes.

But notenough people seem to understand that the nature of the deal has changed. They'veshown themselves to be masters of the old-style political deal -- extra taxrevenue here, an election change there -- but they can't seem to grasp the newcompromise calculus.

So lockthem back up. And lock them up Assembly-style this time: Speaker Karen Bass wasactually a better jailer than Steinberg, refusing to let her members even leavethe chamber.

And keepthem there until this package gets passed.

Photo: The Orange County Register