Tags: California Budget

Few Signs of Progress in Solving Calif. Budget

Monday, 21 Mar 2011 09:55 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders began a new week of budget negotiations Monday with optimism, even as they admitted little progress on how to address the remainder of California's $26.6 billion shortfall.

Brown, a Democrat, has missed his self-imposed deadline to put a special election on tax extensions before voters, and lawmakers say it's increasingly unlikely that any such measure could be placed on the ballot June 7, when several municipalities hold local elections.

But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said this is the week to get bipartisan support to call a vote.

"Time is of the essence. ... We're talking days, not weeks," Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, said after meeting with Brown and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles. "There's going to be an all-hands effort to try to pull together an agreement and to try to get the minimum number of Republican votes — or more than the minimum number — to give the people a choice."

The governor was expected to give labor groups an update Monday night. He also took to YouTube, asking Californians to let lawmakers know they want a chance to vote.

"I don't see this as a Republican or a Democratic issue," Brown said in his three-minute video. "This is a matter of all of us thinking as Californians first and acting in solidarity to grapple with problems that have been avoided too long."

The Legislature began chipping away at the deficit last week, primarily by cutting health care services for seniors and the poor. But the most contentious parts of Brown's budget proposal remain unresolved, including his desire to eliminate local redevelopment agencies and his call for a special election.

Brown wants voters to decide whether to extend temporary increases in the personal income, sales and vehicle taxes enacted two years ago. If voters approve, those taxes would bring in an estimated $9.2 billion a year for five more years. That is on top of $12.5 billion in spending cuts.

While no Republicans support the plan, five GOP senators have engaged in discussions with Brown and Democrats. They want pension reform, a state spending cap and regulatory changes, primarily to environmental rules they say stymie economic development.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year won concessions on public employee pensions through the Legislature and collective bargaining, and Brown has succeeded in getting rollbacks in contract agreements his administration recently struck with several state unions.

Nevertheless, the Republican senators are pressing for more changes, such as converting to a hybrid retirement plan that blends the current defined benefits with 401(k)-style savings account.

One of the five GOP senators, Sen. Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo, said Brown has so far rejected their ideas. He suggested the governor has not been willing to challenge his own party to accept changes that are unpalatable to unions, which are major donors to Democratic candidates and causes.

"All five of us who have stepped forward have put ourselves in very, very precarious positions," Blakeslee said, referring to a backlash within his own party, including a brief attempt within the state GOP to label any Republican lawmakers who compromise with Brown as a traitor. "We would not have sat down at the table if we thought this was a sham offer to negotiate.

"If at the end of the day he's unwilling to accept any of these proposals, I think it's going to make it more difficult for him to engage us and others in the future."

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