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Senate Gives Tepid OK to State Budget Outline : Legislature: Republicans back a package drawn up by Democrats, but only to expedite further negotiations on spending. The $53.2-billion plan passes without a vote to spare as Wilson shows signs of compromising.

May 29, 1993|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — With a bow to bipartisan cooperation, Senate Republicans on Friday lent their votes to a Democrat-drawn state budget, paving the way for an Assembly-Senate conference committee to begin serious negotiations on a spending plan for the 1993-1994 fiscal year.

The $53.2-billion budget passed on a 27-1 vote, the minimum needed for a two-thirds majority. Seven GOP legislators voted in favor of the plan even though a lead Republican budget negotiator described it as being unbalanced and irresponsible.

"This is a bogus document," said state Sen. Tim Leslie (R-Carnelian Bay). "But it's a bogus document with a lot of heart."

Leslie and other Republicans said they agreed to hold their noses and vote for the plan because they know it will not become law in its present form.

After a few more routine procedural votes in both houses, a six-member committee will swing into action next week to try to resolve differences between the Assembly and Senate versions of the spending plan.

At the same time, legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Pete Wilson are expected to start discussions aimed at reaching a consensus before the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

The Senate vote capped a week of activity in which the governor's public approval rating sank to a new low, even as Wilson is signaling a willingness to compromise on the crucial question of whether to extend a portion of the state sales tax that was supposed to be temporary.

Publicly, Wilson is sticking to his position that the half-cent temporary tax should expire on schedule June 30.

But privately Wilson is reported to have told law enforcement officials and Republican legislators that he will consider extending the tax at least through Nov. 2. Wilson has called a statewide special election for that date and has urged county governments to ask their voters to reimpose the tax as a local levy if they need the money to replace funds they are almost sure to lose when the state budget is enacted.

Wilson appears to be set in his opposition to extending the tax beyond that date. If so, he may be rowing against the political tide.

Virtually every Democrat in the Legislature wants to extend the levy and use the money to cushion public schools, local government or health and welfare programs against further cuts. At least one Republican legislator has come out in favor of extending the tax, and many more say privately that they are having trouble seeing how to make a budget work without that money.

In a survey released Friday, the Field Poll said Californians, by a 60% to 33% margin, favor extending the tax for one more year. The same polling organization reported Thursday that 15% of the public says Wilson is doing an excellent or good job as governor, while 36% rate his performance as fair and 42% say he is doing a poor or very poor job.

The consensus among political consultants and legislators is that Wilson needs a timely resolution to this year's budget fight to show that he has the leadership skills required of a governor. He took a beating in the polls a year ago for his role in a months-long deadlock that forced the state to use IOUs to pay its bills.

Wilson has proposed a $38.2-billion general fund budget that includes cuts in local government, health and welfare and university programs. He has agreed to $1.1 billion in short-term deficit spending to prevent even deeper reductions in those programs.

Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), chairman of the Assembly's Budget Committee, has proposed extending the half-cent sales tax and using it to pay off the state's $3-billion year-end deficit. His plan calls for spending $39.2 billion in the next fiscal year, about $1 billion more than Wilson has proposed.

The Senate plan passed Friday was slightly larger, with a $39.4-billion general fund. But unlike the plans offered by Wilson and Vasconcellos, the Senate version envisions paying off the entire deficit in one year. It would reimpose the half-cent sales tax but turn the money over to counties and confer new responsibility to run several criminal justice programs now under state control.

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