Angered by stalled budget, Assembly speaker threatens GOP gains
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO (AP) ” The impasse over the state’s long-overdue budget turned heated Wednesday when the Democratic leader of the Assembly said Republicans would lose the gains they had previously negotiated if they fail to end the stalemate quickly.
“Political hostage-taking is not the way to do business, and we can’t reward it,” said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, recently returned from a European vacation. “I’m not going to support it. I won’t do it.”
The Legislature was supposed to pass a budget by June 15 and send it to the governor in time for the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
But Senate Republicans have refused to support the $145 billion spending plan after it passed the Assembly on July 20. They have held out for additional spending cuts and sought concessions on a variety of issues, some of which have little to do with the state budget.
Nunez warned Republicans that they risk losing what they had gained in the negotiations that led to the budget deal passed by the Assembly. That includes a package of tax incentives for California businesses, as well as cuts to public transit funding and social service agencies.
“They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” Nunez, D-Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview. “Why would I agree to any budget that is worse for Democrats than the budget that we closed on? I just couldn’t do that.”
Partly at issue is a $700 million deficit that Senate Republicans want to eliminate, while Democrats say they have cut enough. The amount represents about one half of 1 percent of the state’s overall budget.
Nunez’s comments were intended to prod senators into action and encourage the Senate to strike a deal before lawmakers return from summer recess Aug. 20.
The stalled negotiations have frustrated not only lawmakers but also Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Republican governor has said he supports the Assembly’s version of the budget and wants it approved so he and lawmakers can move on to major policy issues such as health care reform.
As Nunez was scolding Senate Republicans, the Senate’s leader also was trying to exert pressure.
Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, convened a news conference Wednesday to say he is done negotiating. He also said no legislation will move until Republicans capitulate and approve the budget.
“The Senate will take up no issues ” none,” Perata said.
The Senate has voted against the spending plan twice because it cannot reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass it. At least two Republican votes are needed in the 40-member chamber, and so far only one of the 15 GOP members has voted for it.
Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin, criticized the Democratic leaders for refusing to continue negotiations on the budget and what he considers related policy issues.
“That’s not really a responsible position,” he said. “It’s not going to happen unless people talk.”
Among the other issues Republicans want addressed is how state environmental laws are applied to local governments. In short, the attorney general has threatened to punish cities and counties if they approve housing, road and other projects without considering their negative effects on global warming.
Republicans want cities and counties freed from such constraints, and the governor and Democrats have said they are willing to talk about the issue once a budget is signed. Skeptical Republicans are refusing to budge, believing they will gain the environmental concession only by blocking the budget.
Ackerman said Perata is wise to halt other legislation until a budget is completed.
The two sides have not had substantive talks since the last failed budget vote in the Senate on Aug. 2.
Hardening the lines between Democrats and Republicans is the pressure they are receiving from their core supporters.
Conservatives, who have been writing regular blogs about the budget negotiations and view the Legislature’s spending habits suspiciously, are urging Senate Republicans against giving in.
Nunez, meanwhile, said some Democrats are upset that Senate Republicans won a promise from Schwarzenegger to cut even more from the budget. The governor has assured Republicans that he would use his line-item veto power to try to eliminate the $700 million deficit.
Nunez warned the Senate to get a deal in the next two weeks and have the budget finished by the end of the summer recess in late August. He said there would be consequences if the impasse continues and budget negotiations have to be reopened.
Democrats have the upper hand because they have majorities in the Assembly and Senate.
Nunez said he would demand that lawmakers restore $150 million for programs designed to help the poor, blind and disabled. He also would require $800 million be restored to a transportation fund that sustained $1.3 billion in cuts to balance the budget. Most of that money comes from public transit programs that Democrats typically are reluctant to cut.
“That will just make the deficit that much deeper,” Nunez said.
He said he is no longer interested in promoting a last-minute bill he negotiated with Assembly Republicans to give tax credits to movie studios, high tech firms and other companies. Perata’s office estimated the tax credits would cost the state between $600 million and $1 billion a year.
Nunez outlined his objections in a sharply worded letter sent to Ackerman on Wednesday.
“You and your members have personally maligned me and the members of this house during the past two weeks,” Nunez said in the letter, referring to criticism that the Assembly took its summer vacation after passing its version of the budget, which it did with Republican support.
He accused Senate Republicans of “changing demands, no interest in compromise and lack of an exit strategy.”