Lawmakers Pass a Budget But Key Pieces Are Still Unresolved
Over Republican opposition, Democratic lawmakers passed a bill authorizing a $123 billion state budget and other measures aimed at reducing state spending by $6.2 billion but did not act on three key measures necessary to balance the spending plan.
The budget voted on by the Legislature is close to that proposed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in January aimed at closing a $25.4 billion budget gap with a roughly 50-50 split between spending cuts and extending several temporary taxes slated to expire this year.
At Brown’s insistence, the taxes – an additional 1 percent of sales tax, a .25 surcharge on income tax and a higher license fee on vehicles – must be placed on the ballot for voter approval. Republicans – two of whom in each house must vote with Democrats to give voters that opportunity — have so far refused to do so.
“What happens if the people don’t have a choice?” asked Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, during the budget debate before detailing the scope of the additional $12 billion or more spending reductions necessary to balance the budget if the temporary taxes aren’t extended.
Steinberg said those cuts would include an additional $1 billion cut for the University fo California and the California State University System as well as $5 billion in lss support for schools which have already been shorted more than $18 billion in the past three budgets.
Both the Assembly and Senate are “on call” over the weekend but unlikely to take any further budget action before Monday March 21.
Still unresolved are the most difficult budget issues — whether to eliminate redevelopment agencies – a bill to do so stalled one vote short of passage in the Assembly on March 16 — a bill to reduce a tax break for corporations that do business in multiple states and the legislation necessary to put the tax extensions on the ballot.
Throughout the day, Democrats – who hold comfortable majorities in both houses – took a series of politically unpopular votes such as reducing spending on state parks and lowering the incarceration of numerous low-level felonies from state prison to county jails.
Republicans in both houses – almost to a person – voted against all bills presented, prompting Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, to brand them the “party of ‘no,’ ” which one Republican senator thought insulting and sought an apology.
“There’s no plan to put people back to work. No pension reform. No spending cap. No changing government as usual. I think we’re letting down the people of California,” said Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga of the 919-page budget measure, SB 69, that the 40-member Senate ultimately approved on a party line 25 to 15 vote.
The Assembly subsequently approved the bill, sending it to the Dmecoratic governor.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including Assemblyman Chuck Calderon of Montebello, said the repeated calls by Republicans for “pension reform” were a “red herring” since reducing benefits for public employees would have no impact on balancing the state’s books for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Unlike previous years, Democrats were able to pass the budget bill on a majority vote, thanks to vote approval of Proposition 25 in November.
Previously, the spending plan required a two-thirds vote of each house.
Filed under: Budget and Economy
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