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Calif. Senate Breaks Budget Stalemate
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Calif. Senate Breaks Budget Stalemate

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Calif. Senate Breaks Budget Stalemate
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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Right now, today, California has something it hasn't had for quite some time: a state budget. The budget plan won approval by a single vote in the State Senate after two all-night sessions and weeks of deadlock among lawmakers. The budget that now goes to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger includes spending cuts and tax increases and borrowing, all intended to close a budget gap of more than $40 billion - which would be small for the federal government at the moment, but huge for a single state, even a state as big as California.

Reporter John Myers of member station KQED has been covering this story for us all night and now into the morning. John, good morning.

JOHN MYERS: Good morning.

INSKEEP: He's live in Sacramento. And what did it finally take to get a budget deal?

MYERS: Well, a little bit of everything, Steve. It took a lot of side deals, and I think, too, a sense that this package was as good compromise as possible given the size of California's problems. But the side deals - which is kind of the political horse trading that you see in lots of places - were controversial and made this a very long night. One lawmaker needed education money for his district. Another lawmaker needed some help for state fairgrounds and horseracing tracks. But the most controversial ones were a very large-sweeping package from one state senator, a Republican, to create an open primary system in California for political races. That will have to go to the voters in California. And those kinds of things at the 11th hour really kind of bristled some lawmakers the wrong way.

You know, they were controversial, but the leader of the California State Senate who negotiated the package, Democrat Darrell Steinberg, had to reassure his fellow Democrats who are in the majority in a private meeting, about halfway through the voting. I asked him afterwards this morning about that conversation. Here's what he said.

State Senator DARRELL STEINBERG (Democrat, California; State Senate Majority Leader): We have to save California. There's no question that if we did not get this done tonight or this morning that California was going to be in a very precarious position.

INSKEEP: That's Darrell Steinberg, leader of the California Senate. We are talking with John Myers of KQED. And, John, just so I understand this, the governor is Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Republican votes were needed for a budget plan that he supported. Why was it so difficult, so last minute to get a few Republicans on board?

MYERS: Well, there's a long, tortuous history, unfortunately, between Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and rank-and-file Republicans. I think a lot of those Republicans are more conservative ideologically than Schwarzenegger is, and some of them, quite frankly, consider him what they call a Republican in name only. But the Republicans in the legislature who, again, are more conservative, almost all of them signed a no-new-taxes pledge when they were running for office. And even though Schwarzenegger himself is a very strong anti-tax fighter, he knew that he couldn't solve a 40, $42 billion problem without it. And so the arm twisting took a long time to get these final Republicans in. As we talked about with that big side deal for one, that's what it took to get them.

INSKEEP: John Myers, just one other quick question: Now, after all this work, after all this effort, people can celebrate because their taxes are going up and their services are going down.

MYERS: There aren't a lot of winners, Steve. I think that's what you're saying, and it's true. I mean, there are severe education cuts, social services cuts, and, yes, tax increases. But the reality is California was really on a fiscal brink here of running out of cash and a lot of other problems. And so I think a lot of people think it's not great, but it's better than the alternative.

INSKEEP: John, thanks very much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: John Myers is a reporter with member station KQED in Sacramento, where California lawmakers have finally passed a budget. That's a story we've been covering for the last several weeks continuously. The deal was finally done in a vote this morning.

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