SACRAMENTO — Assembly Republicans continued the stalemate over the state budget Wednesday, rejecting Democratic efforts to pass the $41.1-billion spending measure and serving notice that they were preparing for a long fight.
Caught up in a dispute over Gov. George Deukmejian's proposed $700-million income tax rebate, the budget received just 42 "aye" votes, all from Democrats. The budget needs 54 votes--a two-thirds majority of the Assembly membership--to pass. Thirty-five members, all Republicans, voted against the measure.
The vote, coming a day after the Senate passed both the budget and a companion bill with GOP support, was viewed as a test of Republican resolve in the lower house.
GOP Holds Firm
But the Assembly GOP held firm, and the fate of the budget rested firmly in the hands of a bloc of conservative Republicans dubbed the "cavemen" by Democrats because of their heavy-handed political style and penchant for taking uncompromising positions.
During a similarly intense fight over the budget in 1983, the Republican faction bucked GOP leader Deukmejian. This time around, they are strongly supported by Deukmejian, a fact that angered Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
Brown, during the floor debate before the budget vote, warned Republicans that if they vote down the budget a second time, Assembly rules require unanimous consent to bring it up again, something that might be hard to come by.
The Speaker said failure to pass the budget Wednesday could be "the point of no return for us" and make it impossible to reach an agreement before July.
The Speaker said that if the state goes beyond the July 1 start of the fiscal year, "chaos" might result.
After the vote, Brown said it was Deukmejian's responsibility to get Republican support for the budget, an updated and significantly enlarged version of the $40.8-billion spending plan the governor introduced in January.
"It is clearly the responsibility of the governor to produce the Republican votes," Brown said. "He has not produced one vote for this budget today, not one vote. I wish he'd tell us."
A spokesman for Deukmejian, Press Secretary Kevin Brett, said: "The governor is asking for the budget, but he is asking for the complete budgetary package. That includes the budget, the companion bill and the rebate. The majority party only wants the first two parts; they will not approve the rebate."
Assembly GOP Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale put it more bluntly: "Without a rebate mechanism, we won't vote for the budget."
Republicans also announced that they filed initiative papers with the attorney general's office Wednesday for a measure that would require the current and all future state budget surpluses to be returned to the taxpayers. The proposed measure, aimed for the November, 1988, ballot, would give taxpayers the option of electing to return their share of the rebate to the state treasury.
The initiative drive, announced by Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), assumes that the stalemate will continue and the two budget bills will not pass until July 1.
Reason Given for Initiative
McClintock said during a Capitol news conference that the initiative was necessary because the budget deadlock made it clear that "Democrats in the Legislature have no intention of returning $700 million of tax over-collections to the people of California."
Nolan said: "We are very serious about this. One way or the other, the public is going to get this rebate."
The dispute stems from what Deukmejian has said will be a $1.1-billion surplus in the current year's budget--the first such surplus ever to develop since a spending limit was imposed on state and local governments by voters in 1979. Simply put, the surplus developed because the state took in more than it can spend.
The Republican plan is to make room under the limit to spend an additional $400 million of the surplus on state programs by recalculating state and school district spending limits. They want the other $700 million to go back to taxpayers in the form of an income tax rebate.
Democrats Against It
Democrats oppose the rebate, saying the state needs the money to shore up financially struggling school programs and provide additional financial aid to counties.
Democrats, though they hold a 44-36 majority in the lower house, need 10 Republican votes to pass the budget.
As for being dubbed "cavemen," most recently by remarks in the Senate on Tuesday by Majority Floor Leader Barry Keene (D-Benicia), one GOP lawmaker angrily accused Democrats of "trying to win the battle" by "reducing us to a caricature."
Assemblyman Ross Johnson of La Habra said his conservative philosophy is shared "by millions of Californians."
Johnson pointed to a series of ballot measures supported by Californians in recent years and backed by GOP conservatives, including such popular issues as the tax-cut measure Proposition 13 in 1978, the so-called Victims' Bill of Rights, and a death penalty initiative.
The GOP lawmaker said Assembly Republicans stand for "having government live within its means, not having the first solution always be an increase in taxes. The attitude around here for a generation has been let's solve the problem by throwing money at it. I don't agree with that."