No Compromise in Sight on State Budget

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After a week of wrangling over the budget in Sacramento, state lawmakers have gone home empty-handed. Governor Schwarzenegger tried to light a fire under them by refusing to sign any bills until they send him a budget. But Democrats and Republicans are so far from a compromise they've stopped meeting to discuss it. KPCC's Julie Small reports that some lawmakers predict the gridlock could last until next month.

Julie Small: State lawmakers' bitterness over the budget culminated yesterday in a showdown on the floor of the Assembly chamber. Using an unusual tactic, Republicans demanded a vote on the Democrats' budget bill. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass blocked the move.

Assemblywoman Karen Bass: And so I assume, that since my colleagues are so concerned about us voting for the budget, that when we adjourn today, at least six or seven Republicans will join me in my office, and tell me that not only do they want us to take up the budget, but that they are ready to vote for the budget.

Small: But Republicans won't support the plan to add $9 billion in taxes. Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines said the reason to vote it down is to break the impasse.

Assemblyman Mike Villines: Putting something forward, but not having the courage to put it on the floor and vote for it, are two different things. I respect my colleague, the Speaker of the state of California. She's a very good Speaker; but put that vote up.

Small: Off the Assembly floor, Villines said budget negotiations had slipped.

Villines: We've gone backwards. There is no real budget reform being suggested. I just get the feeling that there's a, you know, sit, and hold on, and try to wait out mentality, and I'm frustrated by that.

Small: Just the week before, he'd believed the Assembly could achieve some kind of budget reform. By that, Republicans mean a cap on state spending so it won't grow faster than the population and inflation – a rate of about 5 percent.

But Democrats say that disasters, voter-approved initiatives, and court orders to improve prisons have driven most growth in state spending. It's hard to scale back those expenses. The majority Democrats say a spending cap would force them to cut other vital services: education, health, and welfare. The Senate's Democratic Leader Don Perata dismissed Republican budget proposals as flimsy.

Senator Don Perata: The Republicans have no proposals. They have a huge list of "we don't like it," but they have not brought anything up.

Small: Perata said Democrats have put their cards on the table and proposed a plan to close the state's budget deficit. Now, he said, it's time for Republicans to do the same.

Perata: They said they want a hard spending cap. They don't know what– there is no proposal. They say they want to borrow, and they only come up with 3 or 4 billion dollars to close an $8 billion gap. So, everything that they want to do, they have refused, or failed to provide a proposal. So the burden is really now on them.

Small: The only budget solution both parties support is a Rainy Day Fund to save money for years when revenues drop. That bit of consensus isn't enough to pass a budget. Republicans say they won't vote for a budget unless it also reins in state spending.

Democrats say they won't vote for a budget that hamstrings their ability to prioritize spending. Governor Schwarzenegger may have to make good on his threat to lock everyone in a room until they present him with a budget.