CALIFORNIA HAS, oops, had an on-time budget -- for almost a full day. Proposition 25, which voters passed last year, required that legislators pass a budget by June 15 or lose their pay and benefits. Thanks to self-interest, our lawmakers came through with a sham budget that Gov. Jerry Brown quickly and rightly vetoed on Thursday.
Despite the veto, legislators technically complied with Prop. 25 and will see no interruption in their pay and benefits, even though there still is no budget in place.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature approved a $120 billion budget by a majority vote, as stipulated by Prop. 25. There was no Republican support, which will be needed to enact tax increases or place a tax measure on the ballot.
The budget that was passed was an unworkable melange of unrealistic revenue projections, steeper spending cuts and of dubious legality concerning motor vehicle license "fees" and local sales taxes. But it doesn't matter now that Brown has vetoed it, making moot threats by anti-tax groups to sue.
Even before the governor acted, everyone in Sacramento understood that the budget was unworkable and was passed for the sole reason of preserving legislative pay and benefits.
Now that the on-time budget charade has been played out, Brown and lawmakers in both parties still have to reach an agreement that preserves essential state services and does not overburden taxpayers and businesses during a tough economic period.
There is still a $9 billion budget shortfall, which should be closed with a combination of additional spending cuts and at least some temporary tax increases or extensions.
If Republicans truly believe that Californians don't want to pay more taxes, they could agree to put the issue on the ballot. The most recent Field Poll showed a significant decline in support for new taxes, although a slight majority still would vote for them, depending on what they are.
If Brown and some Democrats truly believe what they say about the need for pension and budget reforms, they also could be placed on the ballot.
Better yet, the governor and lawmakers could do what they're supposed to do and reach a compromise on spending, taxes and reforms without forcing the voters to do the work of the Legislature.
Real pension reforms and a spending cap based on population growth and inflation or on growth in overall state income in exchange for temporary tax increases would give California a balanced budget now and more fiscal stability in the future.
Reaching such a compromise requires lawmakers on each side of the aisle to show some political courage and focus first on what is best for the state instead of their re-election prospects.
Perhaps the new redistricting plans will bring about a more moderate Legislature where compromise is more likely. But that won't happen until 2012.
What is needed now is greater flexibility in Sacramento to reach a real budget agreement instead of more partisan posturing throughout the summer.