State Senate passes $101 billion budget
SACRAMENTO (AP) – The state Senate passed a $101 billion California budget and the bills to implement it early Sunday, ending partisan bickering that had left the state without a spending plan for nearly a month.
The Senate passed the budget by a 28-11 vote, with one member absent. It now goes to Gov. Gray Davis, who earlier had indicated he would approve it by Wednesday.
The budget was approved at 1:18 a.m. after 15 hours of deliberations. A Saturday morning vote came up a single vote short of the necessary two-thirds majority needed for passage.
Senators talked through the afternoon trying to resolve the standoff and returned to the floor in the evening for further discussions.
Republican Sen. Pete Knight of Palmdale was absent.
In the end, Republican senators Maurice Johannessen of Redding and Richard Monteith of Modesto in the San Joaquin Valley broke party ranks to vote with Democrats and provide the margin of victory.
The Senate package kept nearly $80 million in tax breaks for farmers and grants for rural police agencies that were added to the spending plan last week by the state Assembly.
”I feel that we were at a point of impasse, and I did not want to jeopardize the gains for the Central Valley and agriculture,” Monteith said after the vote.
”This is a tremendous bill for rural California,” Johannessen said.
Democrats also tried to woo Republican votes by adding $40 million in extra funding for schools, $75 million in tax breaks for senior citizens and $5 million for high-tech crime-fighting tools for police forces around the state.
Even with those additions, the budget is only slightly larger than last year’s $99.4 billion plan, in part because the state had less money to add after spending nearly $8 billion to buy electricity for troubled utilities because of the power crunch.
The vote provided a significant breakthrough to the three-week budget stalemate that had denied paychecks to legislative employees and vendors who do business with the state.
It was the seventh time in 10 years that the budget was passed after the July 1 beginning of the new fiscal year.
Applause greeted the announcement of the vote in the Senate chambers.
Republicans had held up the plan because it contained an automatic quarter-cent sales tax hike that is scheduled to take effect next January. Democrats argued that the hike would raise $1.2 billion over the next two years to cushion California against hard times if the economic downturn continues.
In fact, the state’s Department of Finance has predicted that the state will run a deficit next year.
After finishing the budget the Senate adjourned for its monthlong vacation.
The state Assembly must now finish a budget process that many say is one of the most contentious in recent history.
On Saturday, Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga, called the process ”clearly dysfunctional.” It was made tougher by the seven-month energy crisis, the economic downturn, lawmakers’ preparations for upcoming elections and prospects of more belt-tightening in the year ahead.
The Assembly approved the budget measure on Monday but was unable to pass the bills necessary to implement it and threw the package into the Senate’s hands. The Assembly must now try again to pass implementing legislation. There was no indication of when that might occur, although the Assembly, though not in session, had remained on call through the weekend.
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