Legislative leaders in Sacramento, more than three months late in meeting their constitutional deadline to adopt a balanced budget, claimed over the weekend they have reached tentative agreement to eliminate the state's $19 billion shortfall. Celebration may be premature.


In fact, the real legislative battles may just be beginning. We're skeptical that the budget terms Democratic and Republican leaders reportedly agreed to behind closed doors will stand up, particularly once partisan die-hards and affected constituencies began chipping away.


We're also unpersuaded that all the terms leaked to the press are worthwhile. Details are vague. The fine print was supposed to be presented to the rest of the 120-member state Legislature on Wednesday, hopeful of a vote Thursday.


This, of course, is one of Sacramento's persistent problems: secret budgeting by a tiny fraction of those who ultimately must vote for approval, with who knows how much wheeling and dealing conducted out of public view.


The leaked vagaries leave much to be desired. Most troublesome is the claim this budget raises no taxes. That's true only if you ignore the $1.4 billion more in taxes California corporations will pay this year under the agreement. The backroom scheming reportedly eliminated that much in tax breaks Republicans fought hard to win last year and that are scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1.


Nearly as troubling are unrealistic revenue projections relied upon to balance the books. This tactic has been used in recent years to give the false impression of fiscal prudence. The Associated Press reported that about $5 billion is "assumed" to be coming from the federal government. Considering the tenor of the congressional election, we imagine buckets of money from Washington are far from guaranteed, since the federal government has immense deficit problems of its own.


There are admirable aspects of the agreement, including $7.5 billion in spending reductions and a reported promise to roll back pensions for new government workers to 1999's lower levels. Those elements, however, are far from assured once constituencies chime in and unions' influence is felt by individual legislators. Indeed, Democrats previously refused pension concessions unless the state's largest government union, Service Employees International Union, agrees. Those negotiations have not concluded.