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California lawmakers pass budget on $15.7B deficit so they can still get paid

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POSTED June 15, 2012 9:15 p.m.


 

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Democratic lawmakers have approved a plan to balance California's $15.7 billion deficit without Gov. Jerry Brown's endorsement so they can keep collecting their paychecks.

The Senate on Friday passed the main budget bill, which has fewer welfare cuts than the governor proposed, on a 23-16 vote. The bill was also passed by the Assembly on a 50-25 vote.

In introducing the Democratic spending plan, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno of San Francisco called it "a budget which is painful yet hopeful, sobering yet with vision."

Assemblyman Budget Chairman Bob Blumenfield said lawmakers tried to soften the most severe cuts to social services and proposed "more compassionate alternatives to some of the governor's proposals."

Republicans called the plan incomplete and urged Brown to veto the budget bill.

Passing the main budget bill before midnight Friday meets the minimum requirement for lawmakers to get paid, however, the Legislature passed only a few of the companion bills needed to enact the entire budget. Many contentious issues, from welfare to high-speed rail, still need to be worked out.

"This budget is full of borrowing and gimmicks," said Sen. Bill Emmerson, the ranking Republican on the budget committee. He objected that the budget documents were kept secret until just hours before the vote.

The plan also assumes voters will approve Brown's initiative on the November ballot to raise the sales tax by a quarter cent and increase income taxes for people who make more than $250,000 a year.

"This budget assumes passage of an unpopular tax initiative that is likely to be voted down," Emmerson said.

Brown did not indicate Friday whether he would sign or veto the bill. Brown spokesman, Gil Duran, said negotiations are continuing.

"We're still not there yet," Duran said.

In passing the bill, lawmakers will continue to receive their base annual salary of $95,290, making them the highest paid legislators in the nation. They don't get a pension but nearly all receive additional tax-free per diem payments of about $30,000 a year.

Last year the governor vetoed the budget passed by Democrats, calling it unbalanced. The state controller withheld 12 days' pay but a judge has since found that the controller has no authority to block paychecks because it violated the separation of powers clause of the California Constitution.

Republicans called the plan incomplete and urged Brown to veto the budget bill. Republican lawmakers had asked the state controller and treasurer to evaluate whether the Democratic budget is balanced.

Treasurer Bill Lockyer responded Friday, saying the plan is "financeable" and would allow the state to borrow about $10 billion for cash flow needs for the fiscal year.

The plan assumes voters will approve Brown's tax measure, which is projected to raise $8.5 billion through mid-2013. Democrats propose filling the remaining shortfall with a combination of cuts and shuffling funds.

If voters reject the tax hike, schools and other public entities would be subject to severe automatic cuts, which include shortening the educational year by several weeks.

A Field Poll released last week showed that a slim majority of likely California voters, 52 percent, support the initiative, and 35 percent were opposed, with the rest undecided. The poll, conducted in late May, had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Democrats worked on two tracks to pass a budget and continue negotiations with Brown on several sticking points, particularly welfare cuts. Democrats lack Republican support for a two-thirds override if Brown vetoes the plan.

"We have worked closely with the governor all year, and there are small but important differences to resolve in the coming days," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in a video released Friday on YouTube.

After Friday's vote, Steinberg said he expected the governor may not act until all the bills are before him.

Democrats agree with the governor on many aspects of his $91.4 billion spending plan but their plan doesn't save as much as the governor proposed. They sought to minimize the amount of cuts they have to make by slashing his proposed reserve fund from $1 billion to about $500 million.

They are urging the governor to back off from plans to cut programs that assist the poor, but Brown maintains the reductions are needed to help bring the state back to fiscal balance.

Democrats are resisting deeper cuts to the state's welfare-to-work program known as CalWORKS, child care assistance for low-income families, in-home supportive services, and eliminating Cal Grants for students who attend private colleges.

The two sides disagree on how to distribute money to local governments that once went to community redevelopment agencies. Brown also has proposed a 5 percent reduction in state worker pay that still must be negotiated with unions.

On Friday, dozens of demonstrators lined the Capitol Rotunda, carrying signs and arranging strings of light bulbs into heart-shaped displays. Most were there to protest cuts to funding for in-home health care service providers. Many were in wheelchairs or used walkers to navigate the Capitol.

More than two dozen demonstrators have been arrested for disrupting the Capitol in recent days, though they stood or sat peacefully Friday as they waited for lawmakers to act.

 

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