Calif. Budget Impasse Imperils Clinics, Child Care

In California, child care centers and health clinics may have to close if the state fails to pass a budget that is now six weeks overdue. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pressing his fellow Republicans in the state Senate to pass it.

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Here in California, child care centers and health clinics are among the services that may have to shut down if the state doesn't get a budget soon. The spending plan is six weeks overdue, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to pressure his fellow Republicans in the state Senate to pass it. So far, almost all of them have rejected it.

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

(Soundbite of applause)

INA JAFFE: There was just a smattering of applause Monday morning when Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived at this day care center for disabled senior citizens in the city of Santa Maria. Frankly, not everyone seemed aware they had an important visitor. The governor greeted several of them individually nonetheless, and chatted with staff before addressing the assembled reporters.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): Hospitals like this, and clinics and nursing homes, are hurting very much. And so only the legislators, by passing the budget, can they help those people here. And this is why we are urging the legislators in Sacramento - pass the budget now.

JAFFE: The director of the center said they don't have the money to keep the doors open past the end of the month. There are similar stories all over California as prenatal clinics, drug rehab centers and community colleges grapple with the loss of more than $3 billion in state funding.

State Senator DON PERATA (Democrat, East Bay District 9; President Pro Tempore, California State Senate): This is easily the most bizarre, Kafkaesque experience I've ever been through in politics.

JAFFE: Says state Senate leader Don Perata, his Democrats have a majority in both Houses, but California requires a two-thirds of vote to pass the budget. And in the Senate, that means two Republican votes. So far there's just one.

State Sen. PERATA: The budget is being held up by 14 members of the Senate Republican caucus, and almost daily, the reason that they're not voting for has changed.

JAFFE: Not so, says Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman, though he was very circumspect about what Senate Republicans are thinking about this budget.

State Senator DICK ACKERMAN (Republican, District 33 of California, Minority Leader, California State Senate): Whatever happens in the caucus, stays in the caucus.

JAFFE: It's fairly common for California lawmakers to be late passing the budget. Dan Schnur, who was communications director for former Governor Pete Wilson, says it's not even unusual for governors to get grief from members of their own party.

Mr. DAN SCHNUR (Former Communications Director of California): What is unusual, and it's not something that we've seen before, at least not in recent memory, is that governor publicly pressuring members of his own party to turn around and vote for his budget.

JAFFE: And one senator in particular has been feeling lots of heat.

State Senator JEFF DENHAM (Republican, 12th District of California): I'm not one who's going to get bullied or pressured or intimidated to vote for something that doesn't make sense.

JAFFE: Jeff Denham is a moderate Republican senator from the Central Valley. His vote was expected to be the clincher. When he voted no on the budget instead, he was kicked off an important Senate committee, and now there's even a Democrat-backed campaign to recall him. Denham says he wants an additional $700 million in cuts. The governor has agreed to do that, using his line item veto. Not good enough, says Denham.

State Sen. DENHAM: I'm just not willing to vote on anything that is done on a handshake without seeing it in writing.

JAFFE: Clearly, the conservative Republicans in the California Senate just don't trust Schwarzenegger, says Barbara O'Connor, head of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State Sacramento.

Dr. BARBARA O'CONNOR (Director, Institute for the Study of Politics and Media, California State University): They are very annoyed with the governor for putting his post-partisanship philosophy to work.

JAFFE: Which has meant mainly working with the Democrats.

Dr. O'CONNOR: And they are holding the budget hostage because he's putting together post-partisanship coalitions that don't include the more conservative members of his party.

JAFFE: And as the minority, they know that this budget vote may be their last chance to have an impact on what happens in California this year.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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