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Layoff notices for up to 20,000 California workers are delayed

Schwarzenegger reverses course on earlier threat because an agreement on the state budget may be near. But the notices still could go out next week if there is no spending blueprint.

February 14, 2009|Patrick McGreevy and Eric Bailey

SACRAMENTO — Bullish on the prospects of winning approval this weekend of a budget to close California's deficit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger delayed plans Friday to dispatch layoff notices to up to 20,000 state workers.

But as the clock ticked toward a planned vote today by the Legislature, the odds appeared mixed for endorsement of a spending blueprint said by battle-worn officials to contain something that everyone can hate.

The governor had threatened to send layoff notices if the Legislature didn't agree on a budget by Friday, starting a process that could lead to the termination of 10,000 state workers in the coming months. But he eventually reversed course, saying the curtain soon might fall on the state's long budgetary drama.

"We believe we are close to an agreement, so we will not be sending layoff notices for the time being," said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger. But the notices still could go out next week if the budget fails to pass, he said.

Even before the final draft of the budget was off the presses, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were being flooded with phone calls and e-mails from constituents and special interests with a bone to pick.

"Everybody is hunkered down," said Assemblyman Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita). "I honestly think the big question is whether there really are the votes to put this out."

Most of Smyth's fellow Republicans, at least three of whose votes are needed in each chamber to meet the two-thirds majority required for passage, have vowed to oppose the budget because of its tax increases.

"I in good conscience cannot look in the mirror and raise the taxes on the average family of four by more than $1,000," said Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga).

Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) said higher taxes would "push us further into recession" and "hit jobs."

But as the pressure mounted, key lawmakers showed signs of bucking their respective party lines.

Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana) appeared poised to bolt from his peers in the majority party, despite a statement by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) that he expected "all Democratic members to vote for the budget -- absolutely no exceptions."

Early in the day, Correa seemed to be sticking by a no-tax-hike pledge he made on the campaign trail to vote against a budget that includes a $14.4-billion boost in sales, personal income, vehicle and gas taxes.

By late Friday, Correa was in his district holding intense talks with Steinberg by phone, a Senate staffer said.

"Lou looks really harried," said Assemblyman Van Tran (R-Costa Mesa), who talked to Correa as they waited at the Sacramento airport to board a plane to Orange County. "He made some promises, and he would like to keep them."

If Correa demurs, four Republicans in the state Senate would need to cross the aisle and vote with the Democrats.

That would be a long shot. Sen. Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto), leader of the Senate Republicans, has told Democrats that they can expect no more than three Republican votes no matter what Correa does, said Sabrina Lockhart, a GOP spokeswoman.

Cogdill told his caucus during a somber closed session earlier this week that he plans to support the proposed budget and will not hold members to their anti-tax pledges.

Among the moderate Republicans being courted is Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), who said he wanted to see the budget in bill form -- typically hundreds of pages -- before deciding how to vote.

"It's an ugly budget," he said. "It's going to be a hard pill to swallow."

The devil may be in the details.

Maldonado, for instance, said he probably would vote against the budget unless the governor and legislative leaders remove $1 million to buy furnishings for the state controller's office.

Other Republicans being lobbied for their votes included Sens. Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield and Dave Cox of Sacramento.

Ashburn did not return calls Friday. A spokeswoman for Cox said he is still awaiting details.

Meanwhile, Sacramento County filed a lawsuit Friday against state Controller John Chiang to release $270 million in state social-service funds owed to local governments. Los Angeles County officials agreed to join the legal challenge.

--

patrick.mcgreevy @latimes.com

eric.bailey@latimes.com

Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.

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