Calif lawmakers forge ahead with budget package

March 17, 2011

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California lawmakers are focusing on a budget package aimed at closing the state’s $26.6 billion deficit, as Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders seek out the votes needed to pass the plan’s two most divisive components.

The state Assembly and Senate on Wednesday approved billions of dollars of spending cuts, but failed to pass a bill to eliminate the state’s more than 400 redevelopment agencies or take up the Democratic governor’s plan to ask voters to approve a five-year extension of sales, income and vehicle taxes set to expire this year.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said there was a “strong possibility” the Senate would tackle those two issues Thursday—discussions he and other lawmakers said could prove contentious.

“I’m sure we’ll have a very energetic debate,” said Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, describing the measures approved Wednesday as “relatively low-hanging fruit.”

Those eight bills authorize an estimated $7.4 billion in cuts to the CalWORKS welfare-to-work program, services for the developmentally disabled, the state’s health insurance program for the poor and other spending areas. About half of the cuts come from shifting money away from local communities to programs normally paid for by the state’s general fund.

After hours of behind-the-scenes vote wrangling, the Assembly fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority required to approve the redevelopment agency bill, which would save the state an additional $1.7 billion. That prevented the Senate from taking up the measure.

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