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California Legislators Debate Brown Budget

Ryan Faughnder |
February 23, 2011 | 11:17 a.m. PST

Senior News Editor

With the March deadline fast approaching, hearings began Wednesday morning between the California State Senate and the California State Assembly to work out their differences over Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed plan to close the state's $26 billion budget shortfall.

Jerry Brown (Creative Commons)
Jerry Brown (Creative Commons)

The two legislative bodies still need to reconcile some of the most difficult areas of the proposal, including state and local government realignment, social services and the elimination of local redevelopment agencies.

Both bodies last week voted to approve most of Brown’s budget proposal, which cuts more than $12 billion in state spending on just about every program except for K-12 education and generates $12 billion in revenue by extending previously enacted tax hikes for five years. The proposed budget is set to hit health care, the social safety net and local governments especially hard.

Assembly budget committee chair Bob Blumenfield said the hearings will resolve these issues in the next six days in order to have a vote next week on a final budget proposal. This would allow the public to vote on the tax extensions in the planned special election in June.

Blumenfield said the two houses are close to reconciliation but acknowledged the need for some Republican support. Several Republicans need to cross the aisle in order to allow the plan to succeed.

“When you look at it, the difference between the Senate’s budget and the assembly’s is less than three-tenths of 1 percent,” Blumenfield said. “I want to know what will bring my Republican colleagues from no to yes.”

State Sen. Mark Leno praised the two houses but warned that the proposed cuts could not be allowed to ruin the California economy. “We are already spending at record low levels,” he said, adding that California needs to fix the deficit “without destroying the state infrastructure that has allowed us to become the eighth largest economy in the world.”

Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen called for expedited public pension reform and criticized the Governor's realignment plan, saying that it would result in too many unfunded mandates. “We must not simply shift the state’s problems to local government,” he said.

Republican Sen. Bob Huff said the houses’ budget proposals are not, in fact, balanced and require too much borrowing and too many “one-time fixes.”

“The problem is that we have grown an uncoordinated state machine,” he said. He added that last time it took six months to enact a government realignment plan and that the one that the state government pushes through in less than a month will likely be “half-baked.”

The original proposal was set to cut severely from medical care for the poor and the elderly, but the two houses voted last week independently to strike down cuts to some social programs.

Republicans remained steadfastly opposed to the proposed tax extensions, which are supposed to go before the voters for approval in June.

Brown has warned that, if the tax extensions do not pass, the damage to social services will be even greater.

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