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Michael Winship: My State Legislature's Crazier than Yours. Oh Yeah?

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

''My State Legislature's Crazier than Yours. Oh Yeah?''
By Michael Winship

California should just be done with it and rename the entire state “Neverland Ranch.”

This serves several useful purposes. It would be the ultimate tribute to Michael Jackson, pleasing his most ardent and bereft fans. Further validate the state’s Cloud Cuckoo, fairy tale reputation, thus probably promoting additional, revenue-generating tourism. Stand as an accurate metaphor for the state government’s airheaded inability to cope with its current financial disaster.

On Wednesday, Governor Schwarzenegger announced that California’s deficit has grown to $26.3 billion and proposed billions of additional cuts to education. He declared a fiscal emergency, triggering an automatic 45-day deadline for the state legislature to come up with a plan to cover the shortfall and balance the budget. If that fails, they’re banned from considering any other legislation until they come up with a solution.

Arnold also signed an executive order forcing the state’s 220,000 employees to take a third, unpaid furlough day every month. This, after weeks of failed proposals, threatened vetoes, political contortionism, suspended social programs – a fiscal train wreck of such proportions that on Thursday the state planned on starting to pay its bills with IOU’s instead of cash.

It’s “an institutional breakdown,” according to State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a Democrat. Lockyer has called for professional mediation to unjam talks between legislators and Governor Terminator, and even a two-tiered budget system that would raise taxes and allot resources differently for different parts of the state.

That may sound crazy, but this is California. Besides, we in New York State are in no position to cast stones. Our State Senate has degenerated into a slaphappy free-for-all that resembles a drunken demolition derby more than anything remotely like a deliberative body.

On June 8, two Democratic state senators, both of whom are under investigation on an assortment of charges, defected to the other side of the aisle, giving the Republicans a 32-30 majority. Then one of the Democrats changed what was left of his mind and went back, creating a 31-31 split and deadlock.

Under normal circumstances, the lieutenant governor, who also serves as Senate president, could break a tie. But currently, we don’t have one of those. David Paterson had the job until he was elevated to the top spot when Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught engaged in commercialized bedhopping and resigned.

Last month’s legislative coup has led to name-calling, accusations, general inertia and circumstances under which, among other assorted wackiness, the guy who the Republicans say is the current Senate president has claimed that because there is no lieutenant governor, he should have two votes.

Because neither side can come up with the requisite 32 members for a quorum, the Senate disintegrated into a series of alternating, one-party sessions during which nothing could be accomplished. Although on Tuesday, when Democrats spotted Republican member Frank Padavan walking through the rear of the chamber, they seized on the moment, claiming a quorum, and started ramming through legislation, which the Republicans say was illegal. Padavan says he was just taking a shortcut for a cup of coffee.

Imagine West Side Story meets Duck Soup, with the Marx Brothers playing the Sharks and Jets, using whoopee cushions instead of switchblades, and you get the general idea. With the backing of a court order, Governor Paterson is trying to force all 62 members into the chamber for daily “extraordinary” sessions at which he hopes a deal can be cut that will get the Senate up and running again. He says he’ll keep them coming right through the Fourth of July weekend. Some are refusing to attend. Watch this space.

Because, despite all the foolishness, as in California, this is serious stuff with potentially dire consequences. As The New York Times reports, June 30 “was the expiration date of more than a dozen statutes that authorize local governments to carry out their everyday duties, from planning budgets to collecting taxes. And as Democrats and Republicans in the Senate continued… to argue fruitlessly over who controlled the chamber, officials around the state were left to ponder contingency plans that they never thought they would need.”

What’s also infuriating is the way certain enabled individuals consciously are helping stymie any possible breakthrough. In California, it’s Governor Schwarzenegger, whose veto threats, blocking of short-term loans, and refusal to raise any tax or virtually any fee have thrown additional wooden shoes into the works. In New York, it’s not the governor, who has tried to break gridlock but whose efficacy is virtually nil and popularity is south of “get lost.” It’s upstate billionaire businessman Tom Golisano, a gadfly who, according to the Times, helped broker the defection of the two NY Senate Democrats that precipitated the current mess. Apparently, he did so out of pique over proposed tax hikes on the wealthy.

It’s all a nasty game that puts cronyism, partisan bickering, and corrupt, despicable self-interest above the needs of increasingly desperate citizens. Especially abhorrent as we celebrate the country’s independence and commemorate that long ago struggle against abuses of power.

At least Brooklyn Democratic Senator John Sampson, when asked this week if he was embarrassed about the situation, had the grace to reply, “Embarrassed? That’s an understatement. We’re ashamed.”


Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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Reading about the various crazy (read: "loopily irresponsible") and I'm reminded of a 1970s era movie about the inmates running the asylum. Have the legislators no shame? Doesn't sound like it, does it? Illinois: I lived there in the mid 1960s, & it was as crazy then. And a great source of satiric humor. And no one's yet mentioned Texas. Oh Molly Ivins, ye died way, way too young, lass!

George Polley
Sapporo, Japan

Here is my original post
How dare you call LImbaugh an angry white man! What do you call Gates? What do you call a president who fans the race fires?
Moyer is the reason I no longer donate funds to the PBS

Obviously, You are filtering conservative views. I try to send one comment , first time in my life, and the reply was I had submitted too many comments. ONE CONSERVATIVE COMMENT IS TOO MUCH FOR YOU? Is that fairness? LONG LIVE LIMBAUGH the only sane voice in this insane world

Where do I go to get actively involved in the Health care fight, I supported the President, but I will not support any compromise that involves the Health Insurance Companies. Nothing short of "ABSOLUTE BANISHMENT WILL CURE AMERICA OF THESE PARASITES"! They have caused AMERICA to beg for money at the door steps of Moscow, and Peking!
It's about time that the public calls for an accounting of where those premiums have gone in the last 40 or 50 years. Just 10 years will be enough. Doesn't anybody America like to know where all that money has gone? I would!
I live in Columbia SC, where can I find an interest group?
Phil R

Health Ins. Quote Guy wrote, in part, "Wait until our debt gets called in by those who own it."

Don't lick your chops yet. The people who "sold" the "debt" were acting ILLEGALLY - if not on paper, then certainly in the spirit of the REAL "law" - reality.

So good luck to those who "own" the "debt".

For a certain sum of $$$, a group of con artists will sell you a star by namiing it after you. Now go plant your flag on the star - uh, yup, same thing. It's ON PAPER ONLY and ILLEGALLY EXECUTED.

Do you REALLY think that a STATE of heaven on earth depends on CRIMINALS inventing ever more "debt" and swapping it with each other?

Hedge hogs are just hogs, not human...

The Squeeeky wheel gets the worm--or whatever.

Pelosi & Clinton need work arounds from the other 48 so Pres. Change can 'Stimulate' their people, so they must be to bad off to fail. Gee, that sounds familiar--Obama guarantees CA & NY bonds--& Crist just had to be a Repub. Had it not been for hanging Chad Fla. would probably be Dem. & get stimulated too. Other than Iowa & New Hampshire other low electorial states are probably on their own.

Did CA invest in those high interest CDSs? Why are they upsidedown?

Billy Bob, Florida

I agree that craziness rules in CA right now. By recommending such severe budget cuts our Governor would lose a lot of matching federal funds now coming into our state, he would up the long term costs to the state of those who would be severely affected, and he would cause the suffering and death of many. Their are revenue sources which he has refused to tap which must be considered, like on alcohol, tobacco and oil companies if we are to have a common sense, moral budget.

The only difference is CA can't print money like the feds do - or they would.

I think the scary thing is how well these govt auctions are going - that are debt is in such high demand. Wait until our debt gets called in by those who own it. Then we are in real trouble.

california is particularly depressing, as i am sure democracy is the only way to approach justice. but while democracy is necessary, it is not sufficient: you also need a constitution that works, and a citizenry willing to accept majority rule.

californians are rich enough that a significant minority who refuse to meet their obligations are able to stop the activity of the state. the gated communities should be barricaded from the outside, until the residents come to their senses.

As seen in print but thought it made good idea.A novel idea: CONGRESSMEN WEAR NASCAR UNIFORMS LIKE DRIVERS DO SO WE CAN IDENTIFY THEIR CORPORATE SPONSORS!!! How true.Also watch This guy is right no doubt about it.

As I often repeat, politicians themselves are wealthier than those they represent by means of vested interest. They only seek the reins of office to further minority agendas and garner favors. Maybe we need a (very restrictive) wealth and income cap on all office holders. Then they could see through the experiential eyes of the poor, disabled, unemployed and despised, as the cartoony fool Cornel West has stated. Campaign finance reform is a joke if it goes to subsidize the office runs of bankers, realtors, developers, ruthless entrepreneurs, corporate insiders and one-issue religious nuts. Most people, being of modest means, should be represented by others like themselves. I do not mean to suggest lesser-abled and uneducated leadership, but I think we all know wise and worthy persons who have little money, many with admirable values and kind hearts.

The State of Illinois is just as crazy as
California and New York.
Our former governor Ryan is in prison. Another former governor
G-Rod was impeached because he tried to sell
Obama's senate seat. And even though the Democrats are in control they can't seem to work together and address the critical financial situation in our state. We need to throw the speaker of the house Mike Madigan, Chicago mayor Rich Daley and all the other political bums out of office!

One can only HOPE and pray that more politicians quit their "jobs" because they realize that they are too incompetant as PUBLIC SERVANTS to function in the role.

Perception is NOT reality.

Stop funding the psychedelic "propositions" voted in by mono-cause fanatics and you'll have some money in California for reality.

If you want to see the definition of insane legislature, take a good look at Missouri.

Thanks for explaining what a fiscal crisis means in California. I am still confused. I did call up the office of my representative and she could not explain what was going on. She was up the night before with the rest of them. I called to encourage my state representative in the state senate to work together in this state of crisis. Itold the receptionists to give them only fast food.
I guess it will be fast food for the next 45 days. I think sleeping bags are in order. They can borrow them from the umpteen homeless near the

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