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Skelton: The goodies and gambles of on-time state budget

Old-fashioned horse trading, back scratching and leveraging — the proven path to successful legislating, especially budgeting.

It may emit a slight odor for the queasy. But it beats how, say, some Sunnis and Shiites settle their differences.

State budget compromising is much easier when the tax revenue flows reliably. For that, credit the recovering national economy and Gov. Jerry Brown's soak-the-rich tax increase approved by non-rich voters two years ago.

If you're the governor or a lawmaker, being able to spend a little extra here and there is a lot better for the psyche — and for dealing — than having to slash funding for school kids and the poor while raising taxes.

Lest we forget, those summer-long childish stalemates that made Sacramento a laughingstock and the politicians hated are nightmares of the past principally because Californians in 2010 reduced the legislative vote requirement for budget passage from two-thirds to a simple majority.

And to prevent procrastination, the electorate decreed that legislators would lose their pay if they didn't pass a state budget by June 15. That was Sunday.

Brown and fellow Democrats — Republicans now are largely irrelevant because there are so few — reached agreement on a $156 billion spending compromise last week.

The governor — a virtual cinch to be wielding power for another four years — got pretty much what he wanted, starting with some funding for his unpopular bullet train. But he had to give a bit in order to jump-start the train and move it off the side track.

Legislative leaders agreed to appropriate $250 million in legally suspect cap-and-trade greenhouse emission fees — pollution licenses — to fund land acquisition, roadbed prepping and other steps necessary before track-laying can begin between Madera and Bakersfield.

The $250 million will enable the state to tap into federal money, which must be matched. Roughly $3 billion from Washington is available, but no more is in sight for the $68-billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project.

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