Opinion

State deficit hasn't gone away; it must be dealt with soon

The intensity of the presidential election and the national economic problems have taken much of the focus off Sacramento, but the state budget deficit hasn't gone away -- and is getting worse. Gov. Schwarzenegger and lawmakers must move quickly after the Nov. 4 election to craft a budget that's based on realistic revenue projections.

Schwarzenegger should call a special session immediately after the election. It wouldn't make sense to have that session before the election because legislators who are running would be playing for votes instead of finding workable solutions.

Earlier this month, Controller John Chiang said state government is already $1.1 billion short of projected tax revenues, and the declining economy is expected to add to the problem. As it is, the budget is $3 billion short.

If the Legislature is called back, lawmakers must find ways to get beyond the entrenched positions that led to the current budget being signed 85 days into the fiscal year. The hardened positions taken by the Democrats and Republicans didn't leave much room for Schwarzenegger to negotiate a compromise. He tried several times and was rebuffed by legislative leaders.

Democrats must be willing to consider substantial program cuts and the Republicans must be willing to consider raising revenues in targeted ways that don't further damage the economy. A compromise between those two positions would spread the pain. This must be a time of shared sacrifice, and everyone must be part of the budget solution.

Legislative sources say the timing of the special session is crucial. If Schwarzenegger calls it for after the election, lawmakers would have to wrap up business by Nov. 30. New senators and Assembly members get sworn in Dec. 1, and there could be as many as 20 new faces in the Legislature. They would be new to the process, and that would slow down a solution. Get it done immediately after the election.

We would love to see retailers have a robust holiday season and Californians going back to work. But the economy is still lagging, and the Legislature would be irresponsible to ignore the budget implications.

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