California lawmakers end budget standoff, pass $145 billion plan | SierraSun.com

California lawmakers end budget standoff, pass $145 billion plan

Aaron C. Davis
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO (AP) ” California lawmakers on Tuesday ended a budget impasse that had dragged on for nearly two months, agreeing to a $145 billion spending plan that eliminates the state’s persistent deficit and addresses the myriad concerns of holdout Republicans.

The deal emerged quickly after the Assembly and Senate failed to agree on a budget late Monday night and ends a stalemate that has lasted more than seven weeks beyond the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

“I’ll state the obvious: Thank God this is over,” Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said after the vote. “I’m still perplexed why it took so long.”

The agreement will free up billions of dollars in payments to a variety of social service agencies that rely on state funding, as well as to community colleges and some education programs.

The deal also allows the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to move forward on an ambitious policy agenda that includes sweeping health care reform and a proposal to overhaul California’s massive water-delivery system of reservoirs, pumps and canals.

The budget plan, which had passed the Assembly last month, was approved 27-12 in the Senate with two Republican votes, just meeting the required two-thirds majority. It now goes to the governor, who has said he supports it.

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Pressure intensified to reach a budget deal after lawmakers returned Monday from their summer recess. They have just four weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session, forcing them to act quickly on hundreds of bills as they are trying to negotiate the more difficult and far-reaching policy matters.

The final deal came together after legislative leaders from both parties agreed on the core budget plan and on a variety of separate demands sought by Republicans. Some of those demands were included in separate bills that were voted on simultaneously with the budget on Tuesday.

The delay in approving a state spending plan has been an exercise in frustration for both parties and the governor.

The Assembly passed a bipartisan budget bill on July 20, shortly before dawn after an all-night session, and then left for its monthlong vacation.

The Senate took up the bill the next day. When it failed to generate enough support, the Senate president locked members in the chamber overnight, a tactic that failed and may have served to chill negotiations over the ensuing weeks.

California is one of just three states ” along with Arkansas and Rhode Island ” that requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass its budget. That means it requires some support from minority Republicans. Until Tuesday, the Senate could muster only one of the two GOP votes it needed, leading to the prolonged stalemate.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin, and Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, finally provided the support needed to send the spending plan to Schwarzenegger.

At the heart of the Republicans’ objections was a demand that the budget eliminate a $700 million deficit. When Schwarzenegger said he would do so by using his line-item veto power, Senate Republicans said they didn’t believe him and added more demands.

The most contentions issue appeared to have little to do with the state budget.

It arose after Attorney General Jerry Brown, the state’s former Democratic governor, threatened legal action against cities and counties that failed to compensate for increased greenhouse gas emissions caused by local growth and developments.

Republicans have said Brown’s actions would stifle growth throughout California.

An agreement struck Tuesday in the Legislature would impose a moratorium on global warming-related lawsuits. That amendment, voted on separately, attempts to limit legal challenges against transportation and flood-control projects funded with bond money voters approved in November.

Under the amendment, such projects do not have to account for their greenhouse gas emissions under the California Environmental Quality Act until January of 2010.

Brown said it was never his intention to interfere with the bond money approved last year by voters. He blamed Republicans for spreading misconceptions and false information about his lawsuit against San Bernardino County.

“As far as I know, they are not going to prevent the work I am doing,” Brown said Tuesday in reaction to the legislative action seeking to restrict his authority.

Hours before the Legislature approved the budget, Brown was in Los Angeles announcing a settlement of his environmental lawsuit. It requires the inland Southern California county to take steps to reduce the effects of growth on global climate change.

The final budget deal also was helped by Republicans dropping another demand they had issued on Monday ” that lawmakers ensure equalization funding for schools. Republicans want to use state money to supplement rural and suburban school districts with declining enrollments, typically ones in their districts.

The two sides said they will address the issue in budget negotiations next year.

The Senate and Assembly sealed the overall deal with a carefully orchestrated series of votes on the budget and a dozen related bills. The order of the votes ensured that the Assembly signed off on the agreement limiting greenhouse gas lawsuits before the Senate gave final approval on the budget bill.

The budget includes a $103 billion general fund, which pays for ongoing state operations. The higher budget figure includes special obligation funds and money to repay bonds the state has sold in past years.

This summer’s deadlock was California’s third longest budget impasse during the past 30 years, eclipsed only by stalemates in 1992 and 2002.

At least one other state, Wisconsin, remains without a budget agreement for the current fiscal year.