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Assembly OKs Welfare Cuts; Aid for L.A. Is Last Big Issue : Budget: Democrats back Southland, vow to hold up spending plan. Riordan lobbies for veto of bill to take money from transportation.


SACRAMENTO — Removing a major obstacle to a state budget deal, the Assembly on Monday approved Gov. Pete Wilson's welfare cuts, but Los Angeles Democrats held up final approval of the spending plan by demanding that Wilson agree to help financially battered Los Angeles County.

Several Democrats joined Republicans to approve cuts of 4.9% in welfare statewide, with additional 4.9% cuts in the state's lower-cost regions, including San Bernardino and Riverside counties and all of rural California.

By voting for the welfare cuts, Democrats relented to a key part of Wilson's $57-billion spending plan. With the bill containing welfare cuts approved and headed to Wilson for his signature, the one major statewide issue keeping the full Legislature from approving a budget evaporated.

But Assembly Democratic Leader Willie Brown said Democrats are not willing to give the necessary two-thirds vote for the budget until Wilson agrees to sign legislation assisting Los Angeles County.

The focus of the Los Angeles lawmakers' effort was on a bill approved Saturday allowing Los Angeles County take $75 million annually for the next five years from the subway system and use it for various county operations, including public hospitals.

That bill also would give Orange County $70 million a year for the next 15 years. Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R--Garden Grove) was meeting with Wilson late Monday to persuade him to sign the legislation.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and transit officials from both counties were urging Wilson to veto the bill. An emergency meeting of Metropolitan Transportation Authority is scheduled to discuss the bill this morning.

Riordan spoke to Wilson on Thursday night and tried without success to reach him over the weekend. Riordan compared the proposed $75-million transfer "to putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage wound," his spokeswoman Noelia Rodriguez said.

Most Orange County lawmakers, all of whom are Republicans, are ready to vote for the budget. But Los Angeles Democrats are adamant about withholding their budget votes until Wilson agrees to sign the measure moving the $75 million in sales tax money from the MTA to Los Angeles County coffers.

Several Democrats acknowledged that by voting for the welfare cuts, they were essentially trading lower welfare checks for the poor for money to help Los Angeles County keep its hospitals and health care system operating.

"You can only have so many bottom lines," said Assemblywoman Barbara Friedman (D-North Hollywood), who like most Democrats dislikes the reduction in welfare payments. "My bottom line is Los Angeles County."

As she saw it, the choice was grim: "Are we going to hurt poor people by cutting [welfare], or are we going to hurt people denying them health care. . . . Welfare cuts and no health care. I'd rather see [welfare] cuts with health care.

Under the welfare package, a mother with two children who receives $595 a month would receive $566 in higher-cost areas, including Los Angeles and Orange counties, and $539 in lower-cost regions. Disabled individuals who now receive $614 monthly would have their grants cut by 4.9%, and by an additional 4.9% in lower-cost regions.

Once those cuts won the necessary two-thirds vote margin, 54-18, the Assembly ended its workday, allowing Los Angeles Democrats time to extract help for Los Angeles County. The Assembly is scheduled to reconvene this morning.

Taking a slap at Wilson, Assembly Speaker Doris Allen noted that Wilson has given no indication to her that he is willing to negotiate. She said there was no reason for Assembly members to remain in the chambers.

"To sit here with no reason doesn't make any sense," Allen said. "If they wanted the house to stay open, they would contact the Speaker and let us know."

Several Republicans decried the decision to adjourn, pointing out the state has gone 31 days without a budget since the constitutional deadline of July 1.

Adding some pressure to approve the budget, lawmakers and 2,500 political appointees and legislative staff members will not receive their paychecks today. Chances that any of them will go hungry is remote. A credit union that caters to state workers had set up a table in one of the Capitol's hearing rooms to give the employees no-interest loans.

Vendors who deal with the state and nursing homes that care for poor people also have had their checks delayed.

The Los Angeles Democratic delegation appeared to have scrapped more dramatic demands that would have generated more than $200 million from the state to help the county out of its $1.2-billion budget hole.

One bill letting county supervisors impose a "tipplers tax" on drinks got 15 votes. An idea giving supervisors the authority to impose an extra half-cent sales tax without a vote of the public never made it to the Assembly floor.

But lawmakers ran into long-held resentment by Sacramento legislators toward the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

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