Dem majority passes 'scapegoat' budget

JUNE 15, 2011


For the first time since 1933, Democrats passed the state budget, without Republican support, and using only a majority vote. Lawmakers may have met the constitutional deadline of June 15 as ordered by California voters, but it left many questioning if the potential loss of a paycheck was the motive, should the budget deadline not be met.

Voters passed Proposition 25 last year which allows the state Legislature to approve the budget on a majority vote – taxes must still be approved with a two-thirds margin. But the same law now orders the loss of “per diem” pay and salaries to lawmakers for every day the budget is late.

Both houses held session on Wednesday, and the debate over AB 98, the budget bill, was often contentious. In multiple floor speeches, most Democrats tried to distance themselves from the budget, claiming this wasn’t the budget that they wanted, but said it’s what voters were going to get.

“This is not our choice, but what we’re going to do,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. Leno called the state’s deficit problem “the Schwarzenegger deficit – because he put a tax cut on the state’s credit card.”

But Republicans fought back and insisted that the budget was owned by the Democrats. “Democrats control this process – these are the rules we have to live by,” Republican Senate Minority leader Bob Dutton, (Rancho Cucamonga) told colleagues. “We know it’s not the Democrat preference, otherwise it would include tax increases.”

Dutton was critical of the “big burden” placed on the business community and the state’s high unemployment during a recession. “Our problem is that we don’t have enough money for the programs we want to fund. But not everyone can benefit off entitlement programs – somebody has to be working,” said Dutton.

San Leandro Democrat Sen. Ellen Corbett defended the majority party budget and said that Democrats were just doing what constituents want. “We have no other options today without more revenues.” But it was clear that more was at play in the Senate, with the Constitutional deadline being met for the first time in decades. “It is a very important day and we will make history,” said Corbett.

In the end, the Senate voted 23-15 to pass the majority budget.

The Assembly received AB 98 after it was passed by the Senate, and immediately the debate grew heated. “Half of our  revenue comes from the people who work – from their wages,” said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia. Donnelly told colleagues that for the past six months while the Assembly was holding ceremonies and adjourn-in-memories, they should have been working on the budget. “This is a sham budget and you guys own it,” said Donnelly.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, called the majority budget plan “a scapegoat budget.” She implored colleagues to work on permanent budget solutions, and vowed “I will work with you.”

Of the Republican plan, “we proposed a spending cap for a reason,” Harkey said. “The state of California cannot wait for three to five years for pension reform – We are the joke of the nation,” added Harkey.

Republicans in both houses were accused of never presenting a budget bill of their own. “I didn’t see them put their ideas in bill form,” said Democrat Assembly Speaker John Perez.

However, moments later, AB 98 author, Democratic Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield of Van Nuys spoke about the four-page Republican “fancy plan,” and said “Wall Street would have laughed at the plan.” Blumenfield said it was filled with “borrowing gimmicks and fairy dust.”

The Assembly also passed AB 98, 51-23.

After the Senate and Assembly passed the majority vote budget, both houses passed several additional spending bills including a sales tax increase on local governments, an “administrative”  motor vehicle fee of $12, a fee for homeowners in rural areas for fire fighting services, and several health and human services bills.

Republicans said that the “fee increases” were in fact, taxes. SB 23, which now contains Sen. Darrell Steinberg’s SB 653, a bill which would allow local governments to put many different tax increases to a vote, was also passed. “This is the most creative bill,” said Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks. “It’s a quarter-cent sales tax increase — it’s a $1.6 billion tax increase done by majority vote.”

After the budget vote and fee-increase bills were passed, Donnelly released this statement: “The gimmick-filled budget includes nothing to tackle the biggest drains of taxpayer dollars such as massive pension debt, an illegal immigration crisis, and the State’s regulatory attack on businesses, but the Democrats walked away smiling knowing that at least their paychecks will come in next month.”

There may be legal challenges to some of the budget trailer bills including the fee for fire fighter services in rural areas.

With the 2009 tax extensions expiring at the end of June, Gov. Jerry Brown may try again for the “bridge” taxes. And Brown may still try to take his tax extension proposal to voters sometime after September.

But polls have shown that voter support for tax extensions is probably not going to happen.

Brown has 12 days to sign or veto the budget bill and budget trailer bills.

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