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State lawmakers adjourn without voting on budget

Despite marathon negotiations, Democrats have been unable to secure the one GOP vote needed to pass the plan in the Senate. Legislative leaders say they'll start trying again at 11 a.m. Monday.

February 16, 2009|Jordan Rau and Eric Bailey

SACRAMENTO — Ending a weekend marathon of tense negotiations, bleary-eyed state lawmakers late Sunday suspended their bid to plug California's $41-billion deficit but vowed to continue working today to halt the state's dizzying slide toward financial collapse.

Despite support from legislative leaders in both parties, the budget deal became mired in politics. The two-day hunt for a third Republican in the state Senate willing to vote for $14.4 billion in temporary tax increases proved futile. Lawmakers and staff said there were enough GOP votes in the Assembly for passage in that house.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), clearly tired and angry, said lawmakers would resume negotiations this morning despite the Presidents Day state holiday.

"People are exhausted," Steinberg said, "so I thought long and hard about whether or not to continue this through the night. . . . We're gonna come back at 11 tomorrow morning and we're going to work again, and we're gonna come back every day until we get this done."

The deal appeared done at the weekend's start. Democrats already had sprinkled the budget with concessions to recalcitrant legislators, including more money for Orange County to please Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana), who had promised during his campaign not to raise taxes.

And two Senate Republicans were expected to vote for the package -- Dave Cogdill of Modesto, who played a role in negotiating the deal, and Roy Ashburn, a Bakersfield Republican in his final term. Among the concessions Ashburn won was a proposed $10,000 tax break for new home buyers.

Another key GOP senator, Dave Cox of Fair Oaks, was counted on by his own party's leaders to join the majority Democrats to win the two-thirds vote needed for passage. But Cox balked at the big tax bite.

The Legislature's Democratic leaders responded by ordering an overnight lockdown of the Capitol, forbidding lawmakers to leave the giant gold-domed building. As the leaders shuttled among offices trying to find the last vote needed to end the fiscal impasse, Capitol staffers got by on catnaps in chairs and couches or on office floors. A few slipped out for a shave or shower.

"I got an hour of sleep," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles). "We are not going to leave until we get this deal done. We will go as long as it takes."

But by about 8:30 Sunday night, the Senate had adjourned, and the Assembly followed soon afterward.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had remained in the Capitol all night Saturday in an unsuccessful bid to bring Republicans on board, something he has had great difficulty achieving throughout his tenure.

"We're just searching for that one more vote that we need in order to get the budget done," Schwarzenegger told reporters Sunday evening after a closed-door visit with Senate Democrats. "What is most important is that we hang in there. They should not leave. They should continue with the fight. We will not let go. We will not give up until there is a budget done."

In a bid to build pressure on balky Republicans, Schwarzenegger was ready to launch the notification process that could lead to the termination of 10,000 state workers in coming months, according to budget negotiators.

"That is a very real possibility," said Aaron McLear, the governor's spokesman.

The termination notices were intended to be sent Friday, but the governor delayed them because a budget vote appeared imminent.

Indeed, as lawmakers convened late Saturday afternoon -- just hours after Lance Armstrong and other cyclists raced around the Capitol to start the Tour of California -- they appeared headed toward resolution of the three-month budget logjam that has put the state on a collision course with insolvency.

But late in the evening, Cox was unbending even after a 20-minute meeting with the governor. Schwarzenegger is "a nice guy," Cox said, "but I don't need any more information. I'm not voting for this budget."

Meanwhile, Valentine's Day dinners were canceled. One GOP staffer lamented missing a planned weekend trip to Seattle, instead catching 20 minutes of sleep on the floor beneath her desk. Another postponed an anniversary dinner with her husband.

By the time the Senate reconvened Sunday, leaders were focusing on trying to win the support of another GOP senator, Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria.

Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders lobbied the Republican heavily, even drafting a special measure to address one of Maldonado's peeves: a $1-million contract for new furniture in the state controller's office.

Democrats said Maldonado also wanted lawmakers to create more favorable conditions for moderate candidates like him by opening up primaries so voters can cross party lines. Maldonado ran for state controller in 2006 but lost in the Republican primary and has made no secret about his ambitions for another statewide run.

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