Conservatism's last stand? - Page 2


But for now, conservatives are standing firm.

Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill put out a statement saying, "Raising taxes doesn't solve the underlying problem of California's budget, which is the state spends more than it takes in." His statement may not be true — after all, raising taxes does indeed address that problem — but his caucus is sticking to it for now.

"Republicans remain strong against tax increases and that's particularly important now when the nation is facing a recession," Sabrina Demayo Lockhart, press secretary for the Senate Republican Caucus, told the Guardian.

Leno called the tax pledge "childish and irresponsible," and akin to Democrats saying they won't consider any spending cuts. "What kind of honest negotiations can there be when they've signed that pledge?" Leno said.

Lockhart countered that, "we're bargaining in good faith for California taxpayers." Asked about the potentially devastating impact to the economy of shutting down all state spending and projects, Lockhart denied the Republicans were being irresponsible: "The responsible thing to do is project California taxpayers and jobs."

The Legislative Analyst's Office last year put out a report entitled California's Tax System: A Primer in which it wrote "California's tax burden is about average," and in fact less than the industrial states' average of under $12 for every $100 of personal income. And US tax rates are about 15 percent less than those in the European Union.

Leno has reached out to business leaders to have them try to talk some sense into the Republicans. Ironically, despite the Republicans rationalizing their pledge in the name of not wanting to hurt economic growth, the collapse of the bond market combined with the budget impasse threatens to cut off all state spending and send the already weakened economy into a nose dive.

"I wouldn't think that anyone with a business mind or business concerns would in any way support the status quo right now," Leno said.

Leno said that even the Chambers of Commerce in San Francisco and Los Angeles are advocating for a reinstatement of the vehicle license fee, something that Schwarzenegger has voiced openness to even though his crusade against it helped sweep him into office five years ago. LAO figures show the lack of a VLF, by the end of the current fiscal year, will have cost the state $43.3 billion since it was repealed.

Leno said the Democrats are planning ballot measures for next year to raise revenue and repeal the two-thirds budget vote requirement, which only California, Rhode Island, and Arkansas have. As the state's budget crisis devastates state services as well as those at county and city levels, Leno hopes this will be Norquist's final stand.

"No one expects we can make $40 billion in cuts," said Leno, who hopes that the situation illustrates the intellectual bankruptcy of the right-wing stance.

"We do know there's opportunity in crisis," Leno said. "It's getting really ugly now and everybody knows it."