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California lawmakers will start moving budget plan through Legislature

Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 09:06

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California lawmakers, at risk of having their pay docked if they fail to pass a budget this week, say they will begin moving a spending plan through the Legislature on Tuesday regardless of whether they reach a deal on what should be in it.

Although Democratic legislators have consented to most of the spending plan released by Gov. Jerry Brown in May, a proposal released by the Assembly on Monday reflects opposition to some of the cuts in welfare, health care and college financial aid.

But Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, downplayed the differences with the governor.

"We are down to dotting the I's and crossing the T's in this budget before voting on it later this week," he said in a statement.

Key issues remain in flux, however, as negotiations continue among Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles. The outline released Monday does not necessarily reflect everything the Senate wants in a final deal.

"There may be a different reserve number," said a Steinberg spokeswoman, Alicia Trost. "There may be different cut levels. Some key issues are still being negotiated."

Gil Duran, a spokesman for Brown, would say only that discussions are ongoing.

Lawmakers will lose some pay if they don't pass a budget by Friday, under a law approved by voters in 2010. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The new budget rules ended the requirement for a two-thirds vote in each house to pass a spending plan, empowering Democrats to control the process because of their wide majorities in the Legislature. On Monday, Republicans complained that they have been shut out of the talks.

"Budgets thrown together behind closed doors or passed in the middle of the night are one of the main reasons why California is facing chronic deficits today," said a joint statement from Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, and Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

Brown and his fellow Democrats have an added incentive to finish the budget on time this year. They want voters to approve tax increases in November and hope to show Californians they're being responsible.

"A prolonged budget fight wouldn't give voters much confidence that the Legislature should be trusted with more money to play with," said Democratic strategist Roger Salazar.

Brown and Democratic lawmakers are in agreement on their approach to the tax plan, which would temporarily raise the sales tax and levies on the state's wealthiest residents. They assume more than $8 billion in revenue from those taxes and anticipate extra cuts of more than $6 billion, mostly from K-12 education, if the taxes are rejected.

The Assembly budget outline contains a win for the governor on California's controversial high-speed rail project. Voters approved $9 billion in borrowing for a bullet train in 2008, and Brown has embraced it even in the face of ballooning costs and opposition from Republicans and some environmental groups. The Assembly plan would authorize the sale of more than $2.7 billion in bonds to help pay for the project.

Steinberg, however, has said he wants to delay a decision on funding for the bullet train until after the budget is passed.

The budget outline indicated areas in which Democratic lawmakers in both houses are trying to draw a line against service cuts. For example, they want to accept less than half of the governor's proposed welfare reductions.

The lawmakers are also pushing back on Brown's plan to cut in-home care for the elderly and disabled.

How much is cut depends in part on how much money lawmakers and Brown agree to set aside in a reserve fund. Brown originally proposed a little more than $1 billion for contingencies, but the blueprint released Monday suggests just $614 million.

Hammering out a budget has been difficult because of rising deficit projections. Brown pegged the gap at $9.2 billion in January but said last month that it had grown to $15.7 billion.

The Legislative Analyst's Office, which provides nonpartisan financial advice to lawmakers, said the shortfall could be even higher because of miscalculations about redevelopment money and tax revenue.

Some advocates expressed concern about lawmakers' haggling over policy changes while racing to finish the budget.

"We're going to have a lot of very important decisions made in a compact amount of time," said Mike Herald, lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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