Within hours of the California Legislature's passage of a budget plan Thursday, our own Sen. Sam Aanestad sent out a statement condemning it.
"I'm disappointed the Legislature didn't work harder on behalf of all taxpayers," Aanestad stated. "Instead, we took the easy way out."
Aanestad and most of his Republican colleagues refused to consider even a penny of new taxes in the face of a state deficit that has burgeoned to $42 billion. They had signed a pledge to never raise taxes under any circumstances.
Del Norters lean conservative - this was McCain country last November. We don't generally support tax increases. But consider what was at stake here, where the biggest employer is the state government and where many people depend on state-funded social services.
In the face of the festering deficit and legislative inaction, Gov. Schwarzennegger ordered two unpaid furlough days per month for state employees, which would result in an $8.5 million annual loss of local income. Then he sent out 20,000 layoff notices to state workers. Local officials were only beginning to assess the looming cuts in state funding for our schools, public safety, transportation and social services, but they were expected to be monumental.
Statewide, California was issuing IOUs to those it owes money, including people awaiting refunds on their 2008 income taxes. The state's credit rating had sunk to the lowest in the nation. And it risked losing some of the economic-recovery money it's expected to get from a $787 billion federal stimulus package. (Say what you will about the federal stimulus, but it's now the law and California is hardly in a position to turn down any money coming from D.C.)
Even with the budget deal, there will be huge cuts in state spending. Workers will still be furloughed one day per month, and some may still be laid off.
And yes, taxes will go up, including a 1 percent increase in the sales tax for at least the next two years.
The few Republican legislators who were willing to compromise were in a powerful position to affect the mix of new taxes and spending cuts. Rep. Abel Maldonado provided the final vote needed to approve the deal, but not before gaining removal of a proposed 12-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase and other significant concessions.
For that, many of his Republican colleagues are calling for his head. After all, he broke the no-new-taxes pledge that he had signed along with 39 other legislators.
Such pledges are easy to make and politically popular, but nothing illustrates their inherent flaw better than the drama that has been playing out in Sacramento.
Those choosing to keep the pledge buried their heads in the sand and demanded the closing of the massive deficit without raising taxes. By the way, they presented no realistic plan that came close to doing so.
They're like a handful of firefighters who refused to join others tried to extinguish a burning building. They wouldn't lift a hose to the inferno because some of its water came from a reservoir that these particular firefighters promised never to tap.
Those who broke the pledge risked their political futures to provide the votes needed to pass a budget deal that keeps state government in general and Del Norte County in particular afloat.
So who took the easy way out, Sen. Aanestad?