Commentary: Plenty of blame to go around for California's budget woes

If you have been trying to ignore the daily grind of bad news out of California's Capitol, we don't blame you. Watching the state's so-called leaders trying to negotiate a budget is like focusing on the dull pain of a low-grade toothache that you hope might just go away. But now would be a good time to tune in if you can stand it. This thing has turned into a full-blown abscess, and the infection is spreading.

The brinksmanship that was on display as another deadline slipped by at midnight Tuesday demonstrated a new low in California governance, if that's possible. Three bills that nearly everyone in the Capitol agreed should be part of the budget solution failed, worsening the problem lawmakers must solve by several billion dollars. The stalemate also has set the stage for the state to pay some of its bills with IOUs, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has ordered a third monthly furlough day for state workers.

The bills fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage in the state Senate because Republican lawmakers, siding with the governor, demanded that majority Democrats agree to a comprehensive plan to close the state's $24 billion budget shortfall without more taxes.

That's an understandable impulse, and the Democrats are not blameless here. They deliberately put up budgets that they knew the Republicans opposed and the governor had threatened to veto. Then, with time running out, they offered stopgap measures that would have eased the state's cash shortage for a month or two but hardly put a dent in the real imbalance between spending and revenues.

All sides in this battle have legitimate concerns. The Republicans are right to want a comprehensive fix. The Democrats are right to want to save programs that help the poor. That still does not excuse the kind of irresponsible behavior that reigned Tuesday night. This was a game of political chicken. Once the collision happened, however, the injured parties weren't the reckless lawmakers but the people of California.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.