Calif. Lawmakers OK Budget Deal
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The breeze you feel may be 37 million Californians breathing a huge sigh of relief. Around sun-up this morning, lawmakers there finally approved the plan to close the state's $42-billion budget gap.
The vote came after an all-night session of speeches and horse-trading, as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.
INA JAFFE: It wasn't the first time in recent days that state senators have worked through the night. So, after the budget finally passed, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg was pale and a little punchy as he greeted reporters.
State Senator DARRELL STEINBERG (Democrat, California): Good morning.
JAFFE: He said he was proud of the work the lawmakers had done but not celebrating.
State Sen. STEINBERG: The decisions we were called upon to make over these past number of months were very difficult and very painful.
JAFFE: Indeed, there is something in this budget for everyone to hate. The Democrats despise the $15 billion in cuts, especially to education and social programs; the taxpayers would probably hate the more than $11 billion in borrowing if they thought about how much it will cost to pay it off; and the Republicans can't abide the nearly $13 billion in temporary tax hikes. It's why most of them didn't vote for this budget, including Senator Sam Aanestad who represents rural northern California.
State Senator SAM AANESTAD (Republican, California): Raising taxes is just vitally detrimental to the people in my district and to the economy of California. It will give us a nose dive, I don't know if we can recover. It'll be just like the 1930s all over again.
JAFFE: That philosophy is why the budget kept coming up just a single Senate vote shy of the two-thirds needed for passage. After much wheeling and dealing, that last vote finally came from a moderate Republican from Santa Barbara County, Abel Maldonado.
State Senator ABEL MALDONADO (Republican, California): The vote I'm about to cast might be one that will be with me for the rest of my life; but for many, many Californians, this budget is a real life-and-death situation.
JAFFE: In fact, without a budget agreement, California was starting to come apart at the seams. Twenty thousand state workers were recently notified they may be laid off. That's on top of the 200,000 who are already being forced to take days off without pay.
Income tax refunds have been deferred, and the state has stopped sending counties the money to pay for social service programs. A potential shutdown of hundreds of transportation projects could have cost as many as 90,000 jobs. But even with such dire consequences, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said bringing the lawmakers together took hard work and patience.
Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): We listened to them. We had them down to the office once, twice, 10 times, 20 times, and we talked, and we talked, and we talked.
JAFFE: And Senator Maldonado was able to get a lot of what he wanted in those talks. He got Democrats and the governor to get rid of a 12-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline. They also agreed to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to make primary elections non-partisan. Schwarzenegger loves this idea.
Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: This, of course, would encourage more moderate candidates. This means that elected officials won't be punished for doing what is right for California rather than what is right for the special interests.
JAFFE: But voters will have to approve this, and Democrats don't love this measure nearly as much as the governor does.
State Sen. STEINBERG: I'm not sure I'm all that enamored with it at this point.
JAFFE: Said Senate leader Darrell Steinberg. So the budget battle is over. Let the next battle begin.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
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