Republicans debate whether stalemate harms state | SierraSun.com

Republicans debate whether stalemate harms state

Don Thompson
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO (AP) ” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senate Republicans disagreed Thursday about the urgency of the nearly four-week budget stalemate, with lawmakers downplaying the governor’s claim that it was hurting state services.

The Republican governor called a news conference to warn that “the daily operation of government that millions of Californians rely on are being threatened.”

He said schools, roads, flood control projects and the state’s readiness to fight a major wildfire were being harmed.

Republican senators who are holding out for cuts to the state’s $145 billion spending plan said history shows the state can operate smoothly without a new spending plan even weeks beyond the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

“In the last 10 or 12 years, many times it’s gone 30 days, 40 days or 50 days, and somehow the state has continued to survive,” said Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin. “So we’re all worried about it, but the world will go forward.”

Senators left the Capitol Thursday without voting on Republicans’ proposed $840 million in budget cuts, which they are seeking to balance the budget.

No session was scheduled for Friday, but Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, told lawmakers to stay in Sacramento through the weekend in case a compromise was reached that would permit a budget vote. No deal appeared imminent, however.

The state controller’s office estimates that vendors that provide goods and services to the state are due about $140 million for July. School districts are owed $170 million, and community colleges $177 million. Republicans were unmoved.

Schools and community colleges will be paid eventually, and transportation projects typically take years to build and won’t be harmed by a delay, Ackerman said.

“The longer we stay here, the more waste we continue to find,” said Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced. “We’ll keep being here every day, and we’ll keep finding more cuts.”

Denham has resisted heavy pressure to break ranks and provide one of the two Republican votes needed to pass the budget, which requires a two-thirds majority of the 40-member chamber.

Schwarzenegger said he initially was pleased that Republicans held out to cut the state’s projected budget deficit this year from the $1.4 billion he had proposed to about $700 million. That figure is in the version of the budget approved by the Assembly after an all-night session last week.

The Senate failed to pass the plan after a similar overnight session, with Republicans remaining unified against it.

Schwarzenegger said Republicans’ goal of ending the deficit completely and enacting unspecified budget reforms should be left to next year in the interest of passing a budget.

“What they are trying to accomplish is a miraculous situation,” Schwarzenegger said. “I think that is something good to shoot for, but I think, as I said, the time is now to pass a budget because from now on, as I said, it will affect government operation.”

Senate Republicans insist on balancing the budget this year for fear the deficit will balloon to more than $5 billion next year. They also said they are not willing to let Schwarzenegger simply use his veto power to trim specific spending items from the budget.

In a related matter, Schwarzenegger said he was open to a compromise with Republicans over a bill prohibiting Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, from taking action against local governments. Brown wants to require cities and counties to take immediate steps to lessen the effects future growth might have on global warming, a move that could delay housing, commercial and road projects.

Republican senators want protections for local governments in the budget package.

Despite the impasse, lawmakers toned down the rhetoric from Wednesday, when Perata said Republicans were engaging in “fiscal terrorism” by holding up the budget. Republican lawmakers responded by holding up a picture of Osama bin Laden to remind Democrats about the real terrorists.

The Democratic leader said it was up to Schwarzenegger to convince members of his own party to support a budget compromise. Ackerman said that wasn’t the governor’s role.

“The responsibility for getting a budget is ours; it’s not the governor’s,” Ackerman said.

Shortly after Schwarzenegger said he was available to do whatever it takes to pass a budget, his office announced he would head to San Jose on Friday for a news conference on climate change with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.