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Senate OKs Its Budget Proposal

Finance: The blueprint projects more revenue than Davis' plan but less than Assembly's. Action clears way for final talks.


SACRAMENTO — The Senate approved its version of the state's next spending plan Tuesday, setting the stage for negotiations to begin later this week on a final budget.

The Senate plan differs from similar proposals floated by Gov. Gray Davis and the Assembly in a variety of ways.

The upper-house proposal includes a $2.4-billion reserve and would spend nearly $400 million more in general funds than the governor's plan, which has a $1-billion reserve. A key difference between the two documents is that the Senate version assumes $1.2 billion more in revenue and funding shifts than Davis' $102.9-billion plan.

The Assembly plan, which relies on more robust revenue estimates than either the Senate or Davis, contains a $1.9-billion reserve and proposes spending about $700 million more than the governor's budget.

Responding to a call by Sen. Steve Peace, the El Cajon Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, the upper house voted 27 to 11 to adopt its budget proposal. The plan, however, garnered significant opposition from Republicans for its high price tag, increases in welfare spending and shift in transportation funding.

"This is not the era of big government," said Sen. Dick Ackerman, the Irvine Republican who serves as vice chairman of the Budget Committee. "This is the era of gargantuan government."

The Senate action paves the way for a budget conference committee to begin hashing out a final spending plan this week. The Legislature faces a June 15 constitutional deadline for approving the next budget, but before the vote can take place compromises must be reached on myriad topics, ranging from the size of the reserve to funding for public education.

The Assembly, for example, proposed spending $7,151 per pupil, compared to the $7,105 figure put forth by the Senate.

Another difference is that the Senate included $65 million for Davis' proposal to extend the school year for California middle school students, with priority being given to low-performing schools. The Assembly scrapped the proposal.

Other items certain to be key areas of negotiation are the budgets for the Board of Prison Terms and the Bureau of Automotive Repair. Frustrated with delays in inmate hearings and other problems, the Senate eliminated the parole board's funding, which amounts to nearly $32 million.

Likewise, in a bid to show its displeasure over the way the auto bureau is handling the smog check program, the Senate left out its roughly $140 million in funding.

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