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California lawmakers cut services, but contentious budget issues are still unresolved

Spending on libraries, higher ed, parks and programs for the poor is reduced while Gov. Jerry Brown searches for four Republicans to vote for his most politically difficult proposals.

March 18, 2011|By Shane Goldmacher, Los Angeles Times
  • Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), right, talks with Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), during debate on the floor over the state budget in Sacramento on Thursday.
Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), right, talks with Assemblyman… (Steve Yeater / Associated…)

Reporting from Sacramento -- State lawmakers continued chopping at the state's deficit Thursday, approving more cuts in government services as Gov. Jerry Brown pressured legislators to resolve the most contentious budget issues: taxes and a plan to abolish redevelopment agencies.

While negotiators labored behind closed doors, lawmakers plowed ahead on a raft of cutbacks to close about half of California's roughly $26-billion deficit. They slashed spending for libraries, universities and colleges, state parks, child care, and programs for the poor. A proposal to shift tens of thousands of inmates from state prisons to local jails was also approved.

The most politically difficult actions, however, still lie ahead.

"We're in the hunt," Brown said, walking between closed-door meetings with lawmakers, seeking votes for the rest of his spending plan.

That includes a bid to eliminate more than 400 redevelopment agencies, which subsidize development in blighted areas. Legislation to implement that fell one vote short of passage in the state Assembly on Wednesday evening and was not voted on again Thursday.

Brown is also short the votes he needs for the linchpin of his budget: a measure that would go before voters in June asking them to bless a renewal of temporary vehicle, sales and income taxes that will otherwise expire. To place the issue on the ballot, the governor needs votes from at least four Republicans, two each in the Assembly and Senate.

There was no apparent progress in those talks.

Brown faces an imminent deadline for placing the tax question on a June ballot, although officials have not said exactly when. Without the extended levies, the governor said, the volume of spending cuts would double.

"In a democracy, the people should be heard on something that's going to affect their schools, their universities, their hospitals, their very quality of life," he said after meeting with Senate Democrats.

Legislators approved an official budget for the coming fiscal year Thursday, but it lacked several key provisions accounting for billions of dollars. Because of that, they did not intend to send it to Brown. Instead, they planned to send him other bills necessary to enact the cuts they passed.

"We did what we set out to do today, which was to make another significant dent in the budget deficit," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

For the first time, Democrats used a new state law, approved by voters in the fall, to pass budget legislation on a simple majority vote. Although the package includes some accounting moves, such as the deferral of certain bill payments, it also represents a marked scaling back of state government.

California's welfare services would shrink dramatically, reducing cash grants by 8%, limiting the time allowed in the program to 48 months and slashing job-training services. Fewer families would be able to receive state-supported child care, and that program would end for 11- and 12-year-old children.

Funds for local libraries would be cut in half. And $1.4 billion would be trimmed from state colleges and universities.

Democrats said such cuts were necessary because of the depth of the state's fiscal problems.

"I hate this bill," Assemblyman Marty Block (D-San Diego) said several times, before casting a vote to pare back spending.

A fierce floor debate occurred over the effort to reclassify crimes in order to send inmates to local jails rather to than costlier state prisons. Republicans accused Democrats of putting the public in jeopardy by downgrading felonies; some read the list of included offenses, such as felony child abuse, aloud on the floor.

"I urge all of my colleagues, if this bill passes, to get a dog, buy a gun and put an alarm system in," said Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego).

Republicans voted against that plan and nearly all the legislation approved Thursday.

"Let it be noted, the party of 'no' is also the party of fear-mongering," Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said.

There were rare moments of bipartisanship in the Assembly on Thursday. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle applauded when, before the voting began, children performed an Irish dance for St. Patrick's Day.

And when Speaker John A. PĂ©rez (D-Los Angeles) praised the service of Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), a Navy reservist who deploys on a year-long tour in Afghanistan on Friday, legislators gave Gorell a standing ovation and lined up to hug him.

"Goodbye for a while," Gorell said.

shane.goldmacher@latimes.com

Times staff writers Jack Dolan and Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.

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