California budget: Lawmakers begin debate on proposed deal
The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. and#8212; Whether California can stop issuing promissory notes or continues to slide toward insolvency is in the hands of state lawmakers, who are being asked to vote on a complex budget plan struck by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the four legislative leaders.
Under the compromise to be considered by the Legislature, the state hopes to solve less than 60 percent of a projected $26 billion problem with spending cuts. The rest will involve one-time raids on local government funding and accounting maneuvers, such as deferring state employee paychecks by one day for a savings on paper of $1.2 billion.
The compromise spending plan is scheduled to be considered in the 80-member Assembly and 40-member state Senate on Thursday afternoon. But given past budget debates, the package is not likely to be voted on until early Friday.
Legislative leaders acknowledge the plan is imperfect and contains distasteful provisions such as offshore oil drilling and cuts across all major programs, including education, prisons, health care and welfare. But they’re making their case to 115 other lawmakers that their plan is vital to address the state’s cash-flow crisis.
“Given the enormity of the numbers, I’m damn proud of what the Legislature and the governor have done here to avoid a complete catastrophe,” state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg had said.
The overall deal needs to satisfy the bond markets so California will be able to take out short-term loans needed to cover daily expenses until next spring, when most of the state’s tax revenue arrives. State Treasurer Bill Lockyer has said it was too soon to tell the impact of the deal on the state’s borrowing needs.
Obtaining those loans is essential to the state’s ability to stop issuing promissory notes to thousands of state contractors and vendors, which it has been doing in an effort to conserve cash. The total amount of those notes issued for July alone was expected at nearly $3 billion.
Unless the budget for the current fiscal year is balanced by late August, the state controller has warned that California’s cash shortage will grow so acute that he may start paying government workers with promissory notes and halt contributions to state pension funds.
State employees also have been furloughed three days a month, the equivalent of a 14 percent pay cut, and the state’s bond rating is hovering near junk status.
On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger predicted the agreement to balance the state’s books would get through the Legislature despite “some hiccups, some obstacles, some bumps in the road” put up by special interest groups.
But the plan’s passage remains uncertain in a fractious Legislature that has been mired in a seemingly endless fiscal crisis for at least the past two years. Lawmakers from both parties also are reluctant to anger their constituents and#8212; not to mention jeopardize their own political ambitions and#8212; through a raid on local governments. Local governments have already announced they are ready to sue.
Associated Press Writer Michael Blood in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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