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California and the West

State Senate OKs Early Budget Plan

Finances: GOP lawmakers call for tax cuts, saying revenues will exceed Davis' projections. Serious negotiations start next month.


SACRAMENTO — The state Senate on Thursday easily approved an early version of next fiscal year's $78-billion state budget, vowing to reach a final agreement by the July 1 deadline for the governor's signature, which has happened only once in this decade.

The preliminary document drafted by the Democratic-controlled Senate generally follows the spending plan proposed by Gov. Gray Davis in January but calls for a $1.1-billion emergency reserve, more than twice what Davis offered.

Serious budget talks will commence next month after money from state income tax returns filed by the April 15 deadline is totaled.

Senate Republicans, citing California's continued economic expansion, anticipate $3 billion more to spend in the 1999-2000 fiscal year than Davis anticipated in January.

GOP legislators called for using almost $600 million of the potential surplus for tax cuts, an additional $765 million for transportation spending, $250 million more for local government, and $100 million for a 10% rollback in tuition at state universities and colleges.

The Republican proposal, coming after the party's drubbing at the polls last November, represents an attempt by the GOP to appear more moderate.

For example, Republicans omitted any mention of cutting welfare and abortion funding, or any of the other issues that conservatives have touted in past years.

"More often than not, good policy makes for good politics," said Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), the Republican leader on budget issues.

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), while not rejecting the proposal, was cool to the GOP ideas, saying, "We have to be cautious about the surplus and how we deal with it."

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Steve Peace (D-El Cajon) appeared more open: "It's a good list, comprehensive, well thought out. I hope they're right about the surplus." Peace said he expects there will be a tax cut in the new budget.

The Assembly is expected to approve its version of the budget in coming weeks. Once that happens, the two houses will attempt to fashion a compromise plan.

The state Constitution says the Legislature must approve a budget by June 15--a deadline not met since 1986. The Constitution also says the governor must sign a budget by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. That happened only once in the 1990s, in 1993.

The Senate added $46 million to Davis' proposal for flood control projects primarily in Orange County and gave significant boosts to parks and environmental programs.

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