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Republicans offer a budget plan

Still opposing any tax hike to balance the books in Sacramento, they seek more borrowing and cuts.

August 31, 2008|Evan Halper and Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Republican lawmakers, who are blocking plans by the governor and Democrats to raise taxes, proposed Saturday to balance the state budget instead with borrowing and deeper spending cuts.

Their plan, released 61 days into the new fiscal year, is the first complete budget offered by the Republicans. A vote on the proposal is not expected for days.

The legislative session ends at midnight tonight, and lawmakers are on the verge of breaking the record for the latest budget in at least 60 years, a mark set Aug. 31, 2002.

The failure of lawmakers to reach a budget agreement means the session will have to be extended, but no business other than the budget is likely to be discussed.

"Raising taxes at this point will definitely damage and hinder the economy and make it even more difficult to rebound form this downturn," said Dave Cogdill of Modesto, GOP leader in the state Senate.

Republicans are proposing instead to speed up borrowing against the lottery -- something the governor and Democrats had been proposing for next year -- to generate nearly $2 billion in cash in the current fiscal year. They would also take $349 million from a fund that cities and counties tap for redevelopment projects, including affordable housing.

The plan also would close the state's $15.2-billion gap with the help of $1.4 billion in service cuts beyond those already proposed by the governor and Democrats. The additional cuts would affect dozens of programs. Cash grants intended for the children of needy families, in-home care for the elderly and disabled, and financial aid for college students would all be reduced.

Programs to protect the environment, provide treatment to AIDS patients and offer new immigrants access to healthcare would also be scaled back. A labor studies center at the University of California would be eliminated.

Together, the measures would replace more than $4 billion in new sales taxes proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats.

Schwarzenegger dismissed the proposal as one that would merely push more of the deficit into next year.

"We were sent to Sacramento to solve problems once and for all -- not kick the can down the alley for others to deal with in the future," he said in a statement Saturday.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) called the GOP proposal a "blueprint for economic disaster."

Amid the sparring over the budget, lawmakers passed several proposed laws.

Among the bills given final approval by the Senate was a hard-fought, complex measure by Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) that aims to spur future growth in California in ways that reduce commute times and greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill, SB 375, links regional greenhouse gas reduction goals to transit funding to discourage local governments from approving far-flung subdivision developments. It won the support of environmentalists and the building industry. The Senate passed the measure 25 to 14.

Sen. Tom McClintock, a Republican from Thousand Oaks who voted against the measure, likened it to centralized Soviet planning. He said it would force people to live in urban cores near train stations.

"Most people prefer the quiet, tree-shaded neighborhood," said McClintock.

Senators also approved a measure that would allow Los Angeles County transit officials to permit solo drivers in carpool lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways if they pay a toll.

The bill, SB 1422 by Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), would create a three-year pilot project to be funded with $210 million in federal grants.

Another Los Angeles Democrat, Sen. Gloria Romero, voted no, saying the toll lanes would create "an undue burden on low-income people."

In the Assembly, over vociferous Republican objections, final approval went to a measure opposed by the building industry that would require counties to reject new developments in very high fire-hazard areas unless supervisors determine that sufficient fire protection is available.

Democrats passed the measure, AB 2447 by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), 41 to 31.

"We can't keep putting people in harm's way," Jones said.

--

evan.halper@latimes.com

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

Times staff writer Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.

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