State Senators Count Rhetorical Budget Coup
After hours of often repetitive rhetoric, the Senate approved eight bills on June 10 aimed at balancing the budget but failed to win enough votes for a measure to extend $9.4 billion in taxes set to expire this year.
Among the measures passed was what lawmakers called “Budget Jr.,” a 575-page bill, AB 98, that amends the previous spending plan lawmakers approved in March.
“If we don’t adopt the governor’s proposal to extend 2010 tax rates (there will be) thousands more lost jobs, devastation to public education and unacceptable cuts to public safety,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat.
“If there was a pain free option for balancing the budget we would have passed it long ago.”
Republicans countered the tax extensions harm the economy and take money from the pockets of Californians at a time when they can least afford it.
“We have over 12 percent unemployment. We need to get people back to work in the private sector not take more of their money,” said Sen. Mimi Walters, a Laguna Niguel Republican.
“I want to fix the problem. This doesn’t fix it,” said Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga. “This is just going to kick the can down the road again.”
Speakers of both parties stayed on message throughout the more than three-hour debate, often repeating the same phrases.
In keeping with their theme, Democrats named the tax extension measure “The Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2011.”
The bill would maintain an additional penny on the state’s portion of the sales tax and assess vehicle license fees, deductible on federal taxes, at 1.15 percent of value rather than allowing it to fall to .65 percent as scheduled.
A third tax – a .25 percent surcharge on state income tax rates – disappears during the current tax year but returns in 2012.
In his January budget and revised May budget, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed extending the three taxes for five years — subject to voter approval.
But with the higher sales tax and vehicle license fee set to expire July 1, Democrats are pushing a “bridge” bill, AB 18X, that would keep the taxes in place until a statewide vote this fall, tentatively planned for September.
Sen. Doug LaMalfa, a Butte Republican, wondered if the revenue from the taxes during the first three months of the fiscal year would be kept in a “lockbox” so it could be returned to taxpayers if they vote down the extensions, as polls predict they will.
Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat who chairs the upper house’s budget committee, twice read a partial list of the groups supporting the tax extension, many of them traditional GOP constituencies:
The California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau, California Retailers Association, the California Restaurant Association as well as sheriffs police chiefs, chief probation officers, firefighters, teachers and nurses, Leno said.
As he has promised, when the tax extension didn’t pass, Steinberg took up his bill, SB 23X, which Sen. Bob Huff, a Diamond Bar Republican, called the “I Love More Taxes Act of 2011.”
Steinberg’s bill would allow any city, county, school district, community college district and county office of education to increase or impose a local income, sales tax, vehicle license fees or excise taxes on, among other things, alcohol, tobacco, soft drinks or petroleum products.
A vote would be required before any tax could take effect – a majority vote for a general tax, a two-thirds vote to approve a tax earmarked for a specific purpose.
“If this bill passes you’d better buy some U-haul stock because jobs will leave in droves,” said Sen. Tony Strickland, a Thousand Oaks Republican.
In response, Steinberg, sticking on message, told his Republican colleagues: “We’ve asked you to cooperate with us to provide a limited amount of bnidge funding together with reform to save our schools and avert layoffs for sheriff and police departments.”
Steinberg allowed as to how he thought rather than Huff’s title, the measure should be called the Save Our Schools and Save Public Safety Act.
The routinely missed constitutional deadline for the Legislature to submit a budget to the governor is June 15. Lawmakers are attempting to meet the deadline, at least in part, because under Propsoiton 25, approved in November, they forefeit their pay for each day beyond that a budget isn’t passed.
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