There are public hearings on the state budget during the year. But California’s spending plan is really determined behind closed doors. Those are “Big Five” meetings where the Governor and the top four legislative leaders get together and hash out an agreement. Political Analyst Dan Schnur was communications Director for G.O.P Governor Pete Wilson who relied on the process. Schnur is now the Director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at University of Southern California. says the smaller group allowed them to talk more freely.
“In other words if a budget negotiation required compromise on both sides it’s a lot easier to discuss the particulars of that compromise behind closed doors…”
Here’s how it’s supposed to work: The five reach a budget agreement then the leaders go back and get their respective members to vote for it. Last month lawmakers failed to deal with the budget shortfall. It’s estimated that will be 28 billion dollars in the next year and a half. That prompted new Senate President Pro-Tem, Democrat Darrell Steinberg to propose shaking up the current process. He says Big Five meetings aren’t necessarily the way to go. He wants the process to be more public. And he wants all 40 senators to sit on the budget committee.
“I’m not promising a miracle here but I can tell you this, everybody needs to own the challenge here. It shouldn’t be just a handful of senators working on budget, we all own the problem we need to act like it.”
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass is proposing an unusual joint session of the Assembly and Senate for a briefing with the state’s top financial officers on the fiscal crisis.
Meanwhile, the Governor’s spokesman Aaron McLear says Schwarzenegger has most recently opted to meet with leaders one-on-one.
“It just depends on what kind of strategy you want to do what makes sense at the time but sometimes the Big Five helps out and sometimes it’s better to meet individually with the leaders.”
In whatever form the meetings will continue. That’s because the clock is ticking on a fiscal emergency called by the Governor. It puts lawmakers into a special session forcing them to somehow deal with the state’s ballooning deficit.