Democrats talk budget ahead of Friday deadline
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Democratic legislative leaders met Monday with Gov. Jerry Brown as they chased a deadline this week to approve a budget that addresses California’s nearly $16 billion deficit. The leaders are at odds with the Democratic governor over $2 billion in cuts to welfare, in-home and child care and Cal Grants, but said they made progress in their talks.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said that it would be easier to go along with Brown’s proposal, but lawmakers have a responsibility to their constituents, including the most vulnerable.
“Nobody wants to keep going through this, certainly the people of California don’t. And I think we are making good progress and we’re pretty close, but there’s still a little ways to go around how deep is deep enough,” he told reporters.
A budget proposal released by Assembly Democrats later Monday would scrap many of the governor’s proposed cuts, including $880 million from the state’s welfare-to-work program, slashing his proposed reserve fund from $1 billion to $614 million, and postponing cuts to Cal Grants for students who attend private colleges until the following budget year.
That plan puts legislative Democrats about $1 billion apart from the governor’s proposal.
Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, said lawmakers would take up the proposal in committee Tuesday. He said that plan differs from Brown’s plan “by less than one percent of total spending.”
“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.
A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, Gil Duran, declined to comment on the details of talks but said they are ongoing.
Both houses of the state Legislature are required to pass a balanced spending plan by Friday or risk losing their pay for every day that the state goes without one. But a Sacramento Superior Court judge’s ruling this spring leaves it largely in the hands of lawmakers to decide whether their own plan is balanced, after state Controller John Chiang last year refused them payment.
Steinberg said the Legislature would not rush a budget through at the expense of the needy in order to ensure that they got their full salaries. He said the pay issue is “not relevant to me.”
Republicans have criticized Democrats for not holding traditional committee hearings where both parties cast votes on contentious issues before the budget is presented to the full Legislature. The GOP has been left out of budget talks since voters in 2010 passed Proposition 25, the majority-vote budget. It allowed Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature to approve a spending plan without votes from the minority party, although taxes still require a two-thirds vote.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, and Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, called on Democrats to publish a proposed budget at least 48 hours before a vote is scheduled so that GOP lawmakers can be included. They called the talks between Democrats “a sham budget process.”
“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,” Huff and Conway said in a joint statement before the Assembly Democrats released their proposal.
Brown’s plan relies on voters approving an initiative in November that would temporarily raise sales taxes by a quarter cent for four years and raise income taxes on individuals who make more than $250,000 a year for seven years. If voters reject the $8.5 billion in taxes through mid-2013, schools and other public entities would be subject to severe so-called “trigger cuts” under Brown’s plan, including a contingency plan that includes shortening the public school year by as much as three weeks.
He has already made progress toward his goal of saving an estimated $839 million by cutting most state employees’ pay and hours by 5 percent. Late last week, the administration reached a deal with the union that represents California Highway Patrol officers. They agreed to take one unpaid day off per month starting July 1, which amounts to a 5 percent pay cut.
The controller also announced Monday that May revenues were slightly above projections, with an additional $83.5 million coming in to coffers mostly due to insurance taxes, while personal income, sales and corporate taxes all fell.
Democratic leaders were working with the governor to resolve several policy issues, including how much to send to local governments as part of Brown’s realignment plan that shifted thousands of lower-level inmates out of crowded state prisons and into county jails. Brown’s ballot measure would guarantee funding for local authorities assuming that burden.
Steinberg has said he was uneasy with Brown’s proposal to limit the amount of money agencies can recover for battling wildfires and restoring damaged public lands. The U.S. attorney’s office has blasted the proposal as a “fairly cynical attempt” to benefit the timber industry.
Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chairman of the Senate budget committee, told The Associated Press that lawmakers should not expect a floor vote before Friday. Steinberg said if legislative leaders are not able to reach a deal with the governor by then, they would still present a budget by the deadline.
“We’ll put up a very strong, credible budget that does not have gimmicks and that has a substantial reserve,” he said.
Associated Press writer Hannah Dreier also contributed to this report.
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