The Democratic budget passed Wednesday was full of gimmicks and bad cuts. But it may have been a way out for Gov. Jerry Brown, who needs one.
But Brown vetoed the budget Thursday morning, and in so doing bought himself.... what exactly?
The likely answer: only more weeks of stalemate and pain.
It's hard to see how Brown ends up with anything better than the gimmick-prone budget he just received. That's because California's budget system -- which requires broad consensus in a state where there is none -- virtually guarantees that the only budget the legislature can agree to is a budget full of fictions.
It's not clear why Brown, after five months of struggling against this epic dysfunction, wants to spend days or weeks ahead in more failure.
Yes, politically, Brown's promise not to sign a budget with gimmicks and accounting manuevers created pressure for him to veto.
He didn't want to look like he was giving up, at least so soon.
But Brown needs a pivot, and the Democratic budget could have provided one.
He could have used the opportunity to level with voters:
"Look, I promised you that I wouldn't sign a budget that wasn't honest. This is a dishonest budget. But the past five months have shown me that our budget system and our legislature are so broken that it will never produce an honest budget. So I don't want to belabor and prolong a process that is never going to produce anything good. I've wasted too much of your time and my time already.
"So I'm signing this budget, and holding it up as an example of how broken we are. And I will immediately move to demand that we redesign our budget and governing system, beginning now. This will require full-scale constitutional revision, in a process that involves the public every step of the way. It will involve the public because you need to be involved -- and because the public is the primary author of the system that won't allow us to have an honest, balanced budget.
"I didn't want to go in this direction. I sought a simpler way, a balanced way. And full-scale revisions are scary and full of risk. But I know a dead end when I see it, and I know a brick wall when my head hits it. So I'm signing this budget, with a promise that I'll work tirelessly to make sure I'm never forced to sign a budget like this again."