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Assembly Sharply Divided in Struggle for Budget Vote

Politics: Republican conservatives object to family planning funding, while Democrats try to stave off tax and welfare cuts sought by the governor.


SACRAMENTO — The Assembly struggled Wednesday to put a new state budget to a vote, as Republican conservatives rebelled against Gov. Pete Wilson's proposals to provide abortion funding while Democrats battled Wilson's tax and welfare cuts.

The Assembly was expected to vote by late evening on the $63-billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But the gulf was wide between Republicans and Democrats, raising the potential of a drawn-out budget fight this summer.

"Everybody says we're in for a protracted battle," said Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian (R-Carlsbad), a budget committee member.

Although the 41 Republicans constitute a bare majority in the 80-member house, Democrats, joined by a handful of moderate Republicans, won several skirmishes leading up to the vote on the budget bill.

With support from the moderates, Democrats approved a provision to reinstate $70 million to Wilson's office of family planning, which operates programs to combat teenage pregnancy.

"Stop the ostrich defense," Assemblywoman Martha M. Escutia (D-Huntington Park) said, arguing that abortion foes should support efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

Over objections of Assembly conservatives, Democrats also succeeded in striking out budget language approved by a Republican-controlled budget subcommittee that would have restricted state funding of abortions for poor women. Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) voted with conservatives to restrict abortion funding.

In one notable example of bipartisan agreement, Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined in opposing Wilson's proposal to cut payments by $125 million to the elderly, blind and disabled, a cut of almost $30 a month for individuals. The measure by Assemblyman Tom Bordonaro (R-Paso Robles) passed on a 54-12 vote.

Democrats lost several other votes as they tried to restore more than $600 million in health and welfare cuts, plus another $520 million for an income tax credit for renters and $250 million for court-imposed school desegregation plans.

In addition to partisan splits, there were geographical divisions. Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) failed in her effort to have $50 million shifted to Los Angeles County to operate half of its new Twin Towers jail when lawmakers from other parts of the state joined in opposition.

But Budget Committee Chairman Gary G. Miller (R-West Covina) won approval of an amendment to take $400 million in state transportation money from the San Francisco Bay Area, essentially requiring that the Bay Area spend bridge toll revenue on earthquake reinforcement of its bridges.

In one of the more unusual proposals, Assemblyman George House (R-Hughson) called for an amendment requiring that no money be used for any public school programs that "encourage or support any activity that suggests that homosexuality is a positive life alternative."

"Sodomy is not a civil right," House proclaimed.

The San Joaquin Valley lawmaker's amendment did not specify how much is spent on such programs. The budget amendment died, receiving 34 votes, all from Republicans, seven short of a majority.

The Legislature must approve the budget by a two-thirds vote--54 votes in the Assembly and 27 in the 40-member Senate.

With virtually no chance of obtaining a two-thirds vote on Wednesday, Republicans used a maneuver often employed by former Speaker Willie Brown, temporarily changing language in the budget bill so that they would need only 41 votes to win approval, thus sending it to a joint Senate-Assembly budget conference committee.

But it remained unclear whether the Assembly could muster even 41 votes for the bill. The Assembly has 41 Republicans, 36 Democrats, one Reform Party member who sides on many issues with Democrats, and two vacancies.

Complicating matters for the GOP, Assemblyman Brian Setencich (R-Fresno) has become disillusioned with his party and frequently has sided with Democrats on budget votes.

The Assembly version of the budget contains Wilson's proposal for a 15% cut in income, corporate and banking taxes. Assembly Democratic Leader Richard Katz of Sylmar said Democrats will not vote for the budget as long as it contains the tax cut.

The Democratic-controlled Senate, where a committee earlier this week rejected Wilson's tax cut, is expected to take up and approve its version of the budget today.

Once the Assembly and Senate approve their versions of the budget, the debate will shift to the Senate-Assembly conference committee. After that committee completes its work, top legislative leaders will commence negotiations with Wilson over a final budget deal, which must be approved by both houses.

The Legislature's deadline for approving the budget is June 15, a deadline routinely missed. The state Constitution says the governor must sign the budget into law by July 1. That deadline also is missed routinely.

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