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Budget framework sent to Brown, full plan still in limbo

8:14 PM, Jun 15, 2012   |    comments
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Democrats in the state Assembly and Senate did their constitutional duty Friday afternoon by ratifying the primary budget bill before a midnight deadline, but the final verdict on this year's proposal remains unclear.

That's because Gov. Jerry Brown remains opposed to significant portions of the Democratic plan, and has kept quiet about whether he'll compromise... or veto the budget as it now stands.

This was the second state budget passed under the 2010 voter-approved Proposition 25, a change that not only lowered the legislative threshold for a budget to a simple majority but also tied legislator paychecks to action by June 15.

Seven bills were approved Friday by the two houses, the general framework for a $92 billion general fund spending plan.  But as many as a dozen other bills, so-called 'trailer' bills that actually implement the fiscal decisions, remain in limbo.  Also unclear: whether Democrats actually intended to send the budget to Brown by midnight... or whether the document would be formally delivered early next week, thus delaying any gubernatorial action.

And now, the multi-billion dollar question: what happens to the small number of remaining disagreement?

"We're still apart, but you know there's always a way to reconcile differences and find middle ground," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in comments after his chamber's 23-16 vote on the main budget bill.

Steinberg confirmed that welfare assistance remains the key sticking point -- not just how large of a cut to make in the program, but also the larger systemic changes regarding work requirements for recipients.  Brown has been pushing for a harder line, while legislative Democrats have balked about enforcing those work rules while also cutting support services like child care that parents would need to be able to hold down a job.

A spokesman for the governor would only say that Brown believes there's still work to be done on the proposal, and it's unclear just how much negotiating will happen over the weekend.

There are still almost two weeks left before the final budget deadline -- midnight June 30, when the current state fiscal year ends.  That's the deadline that was routinely missed in years past, a blown assignment that in some years led to tight strains on available cash for the state to pay vendors and other invoices.

All of this year's budget process has been driven by November 6 -- the fall election when voters will be asked to ratify temporary income and sales taxes, $6 billion of which are written into this spending plan.

Political watchers have debated all week whether there was an electoral price to pay for either a late budget or a gimmick-filled budget.  Not surprisingly, Republicans don't think Friday's action passed the test.

"If you think the voters are going to give you your tax increase this coming November," said state Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, during floor debate, "and all you offer them is this sham, you are sadly out of touch."

But the budget action does seem, unless someone challenges the issue in court, to pass the legal test of Prop 25.  And while critics say the fast push over the end of this week was about legislative salaries staying intact, lawmakers believed failure to act would be yet another black mark against the overall Legislature -- an institution with particularly low approval ratings in most polls.


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