By Dan Walters The Sacramento Bee
Published: Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger summoned the four legislative leaders to his office the other day for a “Big Five” meeting on the long-stalled state budget, the first such meeting in more than two months.

Did that signal that the stalemate over how to close the budget’s whopping deficit is beginning to crack?

Not on your sweet bippy.

It was what those in the Capitol call a “drill.” An aide to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg had apparently told an inquiring reporter that it was up to the governor to call a meeting. When the comment was published, Schwarzenegger quickly did so.

From all appearances, the meeting didn’t generate any progress on the budget. So it’s more a symbol of the problem than its solution.

An unpopular, lame-duck governor and an even more unpopular Legislature are groping in the dark for some combination of income and outgo “solutions,” as Capitol types term them. But the “solutions” are likely to be more of the short-term gimmicks and accounting tricks that have marked recent budgetary politics.

Everyone involved, of course, publicly eschews gimmickry and says that permanent, rational solutions are needed. But as the stalemate continues between Democrats, who want to raise taxes, and Schwarzenegger and Republicans, who want to cut more spending, it becomes ever likelier that the budget will be another piece of junk.

And when will a budget, even another junky version, emerge from the primordial goo of the Capitol? No one, including the principal players, really has a clue, but it appears to be later rather than sooner.

One reason is that the conflicts over fiscal policy are stark. “We’re fighting about real things and real differences,” Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told a radio interviewer last week.

Schwarzenegger wants to leave some fiscal legacy that’s not a whopping deficit, so he’s demanding pension and budgetary reforms that Democrats and their union allies loathe.

“All of these reforms must be in place before I will sign a budget,” Schwarzenegger declared in a signed Wall Street Journal article last week. That it’s an election year also weighs heavily.

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