Budget votes won’t lead to anything, anytime soon

After weeks of inaction, get ready for a flurry of activity Tuesday on the state budget. And then more inaction.

The votes scheduled for Tuesday will change little. Democrats will put a portion of their proposed budget up for a vote — minus the tax increases — and Republicans will vote against it or abstain. Since a budget needs a two-thirds vote in each house of the Legislature to pass, the Democratic plan will almost certainly fail.

The Republicans will propose a version of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revised budget, which he put on the table way back in May, nearly four months ago. The Republicans will first strip out anything that smacks of a fee or tax increase. But Democrats will vote against this plan, which includes the complete elimination of the state’s welfare-to-work program.

Despite the anticipated gridlock, this might be a good sign, if you want the budget ordeal to end for this year. Before serious negotiations can begin, both sides have to mark their positions formally, with votes. This is for their constituents and also their interest groups. Any lawmaker who casts a vote that crosses a supporter will want to be able to say that before they did that, they at least tried, in vain, to do the right thing.

There was a time when budget theater like we will see on Tuesday was the prelude to the final act, a sure sign that a budget deal was days or maybe a week or two away.

But given the intransigence on both sides of the aisle these days, no one in the Capitol seems to think that Tuesday’s votes will signal a coming compromise. They might be the beginning of the end. Or they might just be the end of the beginning.

Either way, it’s going to be a while before a budget deal is done, especially if it’s a deal that does any more than simply continue the state’s deficit spending using smoke, mirrors and tricks for another few months, or another year.

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