Calif. Legislature Races To Meet Deadline

fromKQED

California's budget deadline is Wednesday, and legislators are scrambling to come up with spending cuts and tax compromises. A measure passed by voters last year means that if lawmakers don't meet Wednesday's deadline, they'll go unpaid until they pass a budget. And they won't get back pay.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In California, there is an unusual sight as this day ends an on time state budget. Today is the date set in law by which a budget is to be sent to Governor Jerry Brown. And this afternoon, the state legislature accomplished that.

Now, the question is whether it's a budget that Brown will accept, as John Myers of member station KQED reports.

JOHN MYERS: Jerry Brown made two promises in his winning campaign last year and two promises only - no new taxes without a vote of the people and no budget gimmicks. Now, even after budget cuts that have still left a $12 billion deficit, Brown seems on course to break one of those pledges, not because he wants to, but because his mantra - raise taxes, cut spending or do both - has fallen on deaf ears.

Governor JERRY BROWN (Democrat, California): We have a large number of people around here who don't want to cut and don't want to tax. They don't want to do anything.

MYERS: Actually, what legislators did do today, specifically Brown's fellow Democrats, is strip his budget of his most contentious element, $11 billion in additional taxes. Those taxes have been a constant focus of criticism from Republican legislators, like State Senator Bob Huff.

State Senator BOB HUFF (Republican, California): A responsible budget would say, here are our revenues, we need to make our expenditures fit it.

MYERS: Governor Brown wanted his tax package placed on a statewide ballot, but GOP opposition made that impossible before the new fiscal year, July 1st. So, Brown wanted the legislature to conditionally enact the taxes, subject to a statewide vote this fall. But some say that would break Jerry Brown's promise to go to the voters first. Either way, Democrats pulled the plug on Brown's tax plan, says the speaker of the state assembly, Democrat John Perez.

Mr. JOHN PEREZ (California State Assembly Speaker): This isn't our preferred solution, but when the votes weren't there for that, we have to go with the best options you have left.

MYERS: Those options are to erase part of California's projected deficit with short term fixes. They include deferring almost $3 billion of school funding and penciling in money owed by the feds to help fund the state's Medicaid program. Democrats say there was no time to spare this year, that an on-time budget is needed for Wall Street to lend California billions of dollars in operating cash.

But something else this year is also different.

(Soundbite of television commercial)

Unidentified Male #1: With Prop 25, legislators permanently forfeit their pay and benefits for every day the budget is late. No budget, no pay.

MYERS: Last November, voters approved a ballot measure that allows a budget to be passed by a simple majority in the California legislature, but also docks them their pay if they had missed today's deadline. The savings to the state would have been minimal, about $50,000 a day, but the symbolic blow to politicians was irresistible.

And because the majority of state legislators are not personally wealthy, some believed today's budget vote was motivated by paychecks, not policy. The speaker of the state assembly, John Perez, says it wasn't.

Mr. PEREZ: No matter what you do, you're gonna have criticism. If there was a glimmer of hope that if we waited till Friday or Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday of next week that we could get the better solution with Republican votes, obviously we wouldn't be taking this up.

MYERS: But on Monday, Jerry Brown didn't sound like a guy ready to move on to a budget plan B.

Governor BROWN: If we don't make it Wednesday, maybe we can make it Thursday or Friday.

MYERS: Now that Democrats have sent a new budget to Jerry Brown, the veteran politician faces a dilemma - veto the budget and open up a potential rift with fellow Democrats or sign the budget and break his campaign promise of no gimmicks. Brown has suggested that may send the message that it's impossible to craft a long term budget fix in California, no matter who sits in the governor's office.

For NPR News, I'm John Myers in Sacramento.

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