Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ahnold gropes for a state budget

While the Assembly escapes for vacation:
SACRAMENTO — Besieged Senate Republicans continued to block passage of a state budget Friday night even as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger publicly sided with Democrats and urged GOP senators to give up the fight.

The deadlock in the Senate persisted despite the Assembly passing a budget on a bipartisan vote following an all-night session into Friday morning. The Assembly has since disbanded for a monthlong recess. GOP lawmakers complain that the Assembly spending plan does not cut deep enough and are holding out for more reductions.

On Friday night, Schwarzenegger, whose role in budget talks has largely been limited this year, stepped in to warn Senate Republicans that he will not support their demand to cut the state's operating deficit — $700 million under the budget plan passed by the Assembly on Friday — to zero.

"Bringing the operating deficit to zero this year would mean a cut to the education budget," he said. "The question now is whether we cut education funding, and I don't think that's what the people of California want. I will not cut education."

He said the Assembly plan is "a budget the people of California can be proud of."

The governor's statement came after repeated pleas by Senate Leader Don Perata (D-Oakland) for his help getting at least two Senate Republican votes — the number needed to implement a state budget. Schwarzenegger's comments suggest he is losing patience with the impasse and will begin putting political pressure on the GOP holdouts.

But Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine said the members of his caucus were not ready to fold. He declared that no budget would be passed Friday. "There's a number of issues still outstanding," he said. "We're still spending too much."

Ackerman said that in addition to spending reductions, Republicans want to see certain environmental regulations on business relaxed and want more say in how billions of dollars in public-works borrowing approved by voters in November gets spent. He declined to disclose all his specific demands.

"I have a list, but I'm not going to give it to you," he told reporters. "We've given the list to all the negotiators, and they're the ones that can make the decision. Every time we give them a list, it gets rejected."

Democrats, who have already given in to several GOP demands, welcomed the governor's involvement. They have agreed to curb public transportation spending by nearly $1.3 billion, delay welfare cost-of-living increases for the elderly and disabled and scale back drug treatment programs for prisoners.

Any attempt by the Senate to adopt a budget that is substantially different from the one the Assembly passed could leave the state in financial limbo for weeks, since the Assembly won't be in town to approve it. Such a delay would leave the state unable to make scheduled payments to school districts, local governments and vendors.
Haven't we been here before?

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