The game of chicken in Sacramento just claimed its first victim, one that has to send a chill down Democratic spines.  Republicans in the state Senate ousted their leader, the man who crafted a deal with Democrats to resolve the budget standoff with massive tax increases as part of the package.  The GOP has apparently accelerated their car, and the Democrats will have to decide whether to swerve or crash:

A state budget deal to close a $41 billion shortfall has been put further into question early this morning after Senate Republicans ousted their leader who had helped negotiate the long-awaited plan with other top lawmakers in California.

The unusual action occurred as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers tried for a fourth night in a row to persuade at least one more Republican senator to cast the deciding vote on the budget, a move officials said is necessary for the state to avoid insolvency.

Speaking to reporters outside his office, the ousted Minority Leader Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, said, “It’s a shame it ended like this.”

Cogdill was one of the four legislative leaders who negotiated the emergency budget deal with the governor. Their compromise budget package, reached after three months of negotiations, contained nearly $16 billion in program cuts, $11 billion in borrowing and $14.4 billion in tax increases. The most contentious debate has been over the proposed tax hikes.

Republicans selected Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta (Riverside County) as their new Minority leader. Hollingsworth is part of the conservative wing of the Senate Republican caucus and he has been adamantly against raising any taxes.

I’d call that a statement.  It certainly sends a message to party leadership that the California GOP will not willingly follow along with more tax increases in a state that already has become one of the worst for tax burdens in the nation.  California did not get into its financial crisis through low taxes, and higher taxes won’t provide anything more than a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

The budget needs more than just $16 billion in cuts.  California needs a real austerity program, one that sheds government workers and government programs.  The Golden State also needs to stop borrowing money, which comes from the massive spending. How massive?  The governor’s office claims that they have kept spending level at $105 billion per year, but even at that rate, they spend more than 20 times what Minnesota does while only having about six times the population.  (And we spend too much as well; we’re facing a $7 billion biennial budget deficit at the moment.)

Until the legislature gets serious about budget cuts, higher taxes only provide a junkie’s fix to addiction.  The Republicans just signaled a cold-turkey approach, and they’re willing to throw their own leadership under the bus to get it.  They look serious about fixing the real problems.  Will the Democrats get serious, too, or go tharn in the headlights?