Calif. Lawmakers Try To Agree On Budget

California lawmakers appear to be on the verge of an agreement to fix the state's $41 billion budget deficit. The legislators have been deadlocked for months. Unless lawmakers hammer out a deal by Friday, the state won't be able to pay for some mandated programs.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Lawmakers here in California appear to be on the verge of an agreement to fix the state's $41 billion budget deficit. The legislators have been deadlocked for months, but with the clock ticking toward a financial meltdown, they now look ready to make a deal. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE: At the Sacramento Press Club yesterday, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said where there finally is a budget deal, no one's going to love it.

DARRELL STEINBERG: I don't know any good news to come out of solving a $41 billion deficit. The only good news is getting it behind us responsibly.

JAFFE: That work's been going on behind closed doors in meetings of the so- called big five. That's the Republican and Democratic leaders from both houses of the legislature, plus Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. They've been under tremendous pressure. Democrats have been threatened with recall by some labor supporters if they roll back work rules as the Republicans have demanded. At the same time, conservatives have threatened Republicans if they raise taxes.

Whatever they decide, a lot of Californians just wish they'd get it over with.

Unidentified Man: What do we want?

MONTAGNE: A budget.

Man: When do we want it?

Unidentified Group: Now.

JAFFE: Earlier this week, about 100 union members who work on state transportation projects picketed outside the L.A. office of the speaker of the state assembly. Danny Curtain, the director of the California Conference of Carpenters, said those road building jobs will disappear unless there's a budget deal soon.

DANNY CURTAIN: This is the biggest budget problem we've ever seen. It will require massive cuts and massive tax increases. And to nitpick around the edge and say you can't cut this and you can't cut that or you can't increase this tax or that tax is not going to get it done.

JAFFE: Though 5,600 construction projects have already been put on hold, the pain goes well beyond the building trades. At the end of the week, Schwarzenegger is notifying 20,000 state workers they may be laid off. That's on top of the 200,000 who are already being forced to take days off without pay. And this month, State Controller John Chiang deferred income tax refunds, stopped the state grants that some college students use to pay tuition, and halted payments to counties for an array of social service programs.

JOHN CHIANG: When you have $6 to pay $10 worth of bills, your options are limited.

JAFFE: Says the controller. What money there is must first be used to pay for public schools and to pay California's bond holders. Even if a budget is adopted soon, Chiang says the counties will still have to wait.

CHIANG: There is a lag time before the tax revenues would come into the state coffers.

DIANNE JACOB: We're fighting back. We're not going to take this lying down.

JAFFE: That's Dianne Jacob, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. San Diego is one of several counties planning to sue the state to get the money designated for some of California's most vulnerable.

JACOB: We're talking about foster families. We're talking about at risk kids. We're talking about welfare-to-work moms.

JAFFE: While the budget deal isn't finalized, the general framework is no secret. It appears that both Republicans and Democrats have agreed to slaughter some of their sacred cows - the Republicans by agreeing to a number of tax hikes, the Democrats by cutting billions of dollars from education and social programs.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg put it this way.

STEINBERG: We are living in the midst of the worst national and international economic crisis in decades. In order for us to get through this together, there's going to have to be shared sacrifice.

JAFFE: For some lawmakers, the sacrifice could be political if they vote for a deal that enrages their supporters, which is why the biggest unknown about this budget deal in progress is if it'll have the votes to pass.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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