SACRAMENTO — State senators set the stage for the final round of budget negotiations Wednesday when they cast a procedural vote to send a $49.7-billion spending plan to a two-house conference committee.
The committee, composed of three senators and three Assembly members, will begin its work today.
Lawmakers will once again miss the June 15 constitutional deadline for submitting the budget to the governor but they predict that their negotiations will be completed before the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
"We're ready to negotiate," said Senate Republican Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno.
As the legislators head into the negotiations, funding for Medi-Cal abortions for poor women is expected to be the most controversial issue.
The Senate version of the budget restricts the use of state monies for abortion to cases of rape, incest or when the health of the mother is placed at risk by the pregnancy. In the Assembly budget, Democrats were able to beat back a Republican attempt to put restrictions on the expenditure of state funds for abortion.
Both spending plans eliminate most of the cuts in health and welfare programs that had been proposed by Gov. George Deukmejian in a budget plan he released last January when it was expected that the state would face a revenue pinch this year. But now that state tax revenues are expected to be $2.5 billion higher than anticipated, Deukmejian is showing a willingness to modify his first budget and increase spending for these programs.
The governor made it clear, however, that before he agrees to the additional spending, state leaders will have to reach an accord on a series of complex fiscal issues, including modifications in a voter-approved limit on government spending, a 10-year, $18.5-billion transportation plan and a plan for spending the $2.5-billion windfall.
High-level negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders on the bigger financial issues are expected to continue as the conference committee works out the mechanics of the spending plan.
Until Tuesday, the budget was stalled in the Assembly where Republicans were demanding changes in the way funds are distributed to school districts for special programs for gifted and needy students. It was finally passed only after Democrats agreed to a $1.5-billion school aid package designed to help rural and suburban districts.
Named to the budget conference committee were Sens. Alfred Alquist (D-San Jose), John Seymour (R-Anaheim) and Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana) and Assembly members John Vasconcellos (D-San Jose), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and William Baker (R-Danville).