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Democrats plan budget vote as Brown demands cuts to cover $17.5B deficit
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SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Democratic legislative leaders announced Wednesday that they plan to move forward with their proposal to address California's $15.7 billion deficit even though Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't signed off on the plan.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the Legislature will vote ahead of its Friday constitutional deadline to pass a balanced budget, while continuing talks with the Brown administration. Perez suggested the differences with Brown's $91.4 billion state spending plan were small.

"We're not only on the same page, we're in the same paragraph," Perez said.

The leaders of the majority party said they have come up with a plan that meets Brown's criteria for a structurally balanced budget, but makes smaller cuts to welfare programs than the governor proposed. The governor's office did not indicate Wednesday whether Brown would accept the plan.

Brown spokesman Gil Duran said only that "discussions are ongoing."

Democrats refused to cut an additional $1.2 billion on programs for the poor, particularly the welfare-to-work program CalWORKS; childcare; In-Home Supportive Services, which provides care for the sick and disabled in their homes; low-cost health insurance known as Healthy Families; and Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program.

The governor, a fellow Democrat, has called for restructuring social services but legislative leaders said they prefer to extend existing cuts, delay new reductions and use accounting shifts to avoid harming the state's poorest residents. Proposals to shift funding from other areas immediately drew opposition from counties that are worried about losing funding.

"Neither the speaker, nor I, nor our colleagues are looking for a fight with the governor," Steinberg said. "But we will not shy from a fight if it is necessary to stand for the middle-class, the poor and the struggling Californians who have already taken a huge burden of past budget decisions."

The governor on Tuesday demanded more tough cuts and suggested their plan was "not structurally balanced."

"Last year, legislators enacted major reforms that cut spending on prisons and eliminated redevelopment," Brown said. "This year, we need additional structural reforms to cut spending on an ongoing basis, including welfare reform that's built on President Clinton's framework and focused on getting people back to work."

Perez said Wednesday that he did not believe the governor's comments referred to the latest plan.

Democrats, who can pass the budget on a majority vote, agree with the governor's approach for tackling the bulk of the deficit by using tax revenues that have not yet been approved. They support his plan to ask voters in November to increase the statewide sales tax by a quarter cent for four years and boost the income tax on people who make more than $250,000 a year for seven years. Those increases would bring in an estimated $8.5 billion in fiscal 2012-13, according to the Department of Finance.

They also support Brown's proposal to ease the state's obligation to cities, counties and school districts by using billions that previously went to some 400 community redevelopment agencies before the state eliminated those agencies.

But they oppose his proposal to save $880 million by reducing CalWORKS grants for families that don't meet work requirements after two years, instead of four. Democrats were willing to cut $428 million from that program by continuing current cuts to counties that provide work training and child care assistance to parents.

Legislative leaders said they also reject Brown's proposal to cut $225 million from the In-Home Supportive Services program. Brown wants to eliminate services for disabled or sick people who do not live alone and cut by 7 percent the number of hours of help they are eligible to receive. Democrats were only willing to extend an existing 3.6 percent cut, which would save $90 million.

That issue drew hundreds of home care workers, disabled people and advocates to the Capitol for a second day this week. According to the California Highway Patrol, officers arrested 43 people in the rotunda Wednesday for protesting without a permit and obstructing the use of state property.

John McCauley, 61, of Santa Cruz, who is blind, gripped his red-tipped walking stick as California Highway Patrol officers led him away.

"If they cut me, I won't be as independent as I am now; I won't be able to live alone," McCauley said shortly before his arrest.