Budget Negotiations Getting Combative

MARCH 18, 2011


The Legislature Thursday passed the main budget bill, with nearly $14 billion in spending reductions. Budgets would be slashed for libraries, higher education, parks, programs for the poor, universities and colleges, state parks and child care programs.

The budget passed even though Republicans threatened party “turncoats” who might compromise with Democrats on the budget, particularly by supporting higher taxes.

Even the proposal to shift tens of thousands of inmates from state prisons to local jails was approved.

However, the attempt to eliminate the more than 400 redevelopment agencies in the state was not revisited, despite needing only one more vote to pass.

In order to pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget and place the income, sales, and vehicle taxes extensions on the June ballot before the taxes expire, Brown needs four Republicans to go along. But he doesn’t have the votes yet.

With the California Republican Party convention taking place this weekend in Sacramento, Republicans appear to have held off Brown’s budget and ballot initiative this week. Many expect that arm-twisting for party unity will be the focus this weekend. But legislators could meet today and try to push through the redevelopment cuts, which Republicans are barely holding at bay.

The questions remain: Will this end up being an all-cuts budget? Or will Republicans succeed in getting reform measures on the June ballot together with Brown’s tax extensions?

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton (Rancho Cucamonga) said In a statement last evening:

Unfortunately, Senate Democrats have passed a budget without Republican support. This budget grows government by 30 percent over the next three years and relies on the hope that Californians will increase their own taxes by $50 billion during the next five years. Senate Republicans will continue to fight for a state budget that puts people back to work, includes long-term solutions, and puts an end to government as usual.

The cuts to health and social services are being criticized by Republicans because service recipients are targeted. The GOP instead wants the focus put on heavy administrative costs, the excessive number of employees within state agencies and bloated overhead.

“We want to make clear that the cuts were difficult to make, but we need to do our jobs,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg responded.

This was the first budget vote where legislators implemented Proposition 25, which allowed a state budget to pass with a majority vote instead of the two-thirds margin previously needed. In the Senate, the vote was 25-15. In the Assembly, it was 52-26.

The vote to eliminate redevelopment agencies, however, still requires a two-thirds vote.

Giving some insight to the Republican strategy, San Luis Obispo Republican Sen. Sam Blakeslee said yesterday that if Democrats will not accept a spending cap, pension reform or regulatory reform, they should use a “one-party solution” and approve Brown’s tax extensions on a party-line majority vote.

In a legal opinion after the last election, the state’s Legislative Counsel lawyers told Republicans that Democrats could put taxes on the ballot with a majority vote — but only under certain circumstances. Any change would have to be consistent with the “scope or effect” of the initiative.

A majority vote to place a tax-increase on the ballot would have to be tied to a pre-existing initiative. Otherwise, it would risk being charged with “an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.”

Even with no apparent Republican support, Brown insisted Friday that he is not even considering a majority-vote tax strategy.

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