- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

UPDATED:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — After a frustrating holiday weekend that failed to yield the one vote needed to end California’s budget stalemate, the state is poised to begin layoff proceedings Tuesday for 20,000 government workers.

In addition to the layoffs, the state also plans to halt all remaining public works projects, potentially putting thousands of construction workers out of jobs.

“We are dealing with a catastrophe of unbelievable proportions,” said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat from Long Beach and chairman of the Senate transportation committee.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg announced late Monday that lawmakers had failed to find the final vote in his chamber as Republicans refused to support tax increases. He called a session for Tuesday and said he would put the tax provisions of the budget proposal up for a vote, even if they would not pass.

Steinberg warned lawmakers to bring their toothbrushes, saying they would not leave until that vote was secured.

Like other states, California faces plunging tax revenue that has imperiled state services. The proposal put before lawmakers this weekend was negotiated by Schwarzenegger and the four legislative leaders and appeared to have support of the required two-thirds majority in the state Assembly.

However, it was falling one Republican vote short in the Senate, a situation that had not changed throughout a weekend marked by long hours and uncertainty over the state’s future.

The plan includes $15.1 billion in program cuts, $14.4 billion in temporary tax increases and $11.4 billion in borrowing. The package also would send five ballot measures to voters in a special election to be held May 19.

The stalled effort prompted Schwarzenegger to make good on an earlier promise to begin the layoff process for thousands of state workers.

The governor had delayed releasing the notices on Friday when it appeared lawmakers would pass a compromise plan to close the state’s $42 billion shortfall. But with marathon weekend sessions failing to produce the necessary votes, Schwarzenegger’s spokesman said the administration had no choice.

The notices will start going out Tuesday to 20,000 workers in corrections, health and human services and other agencies that receive money from the general fund. Administration officials are seeking to eliminate up to 10,000 jobs as part of the governor’s order to cut 10 percent from the government payroll.

Despite the warnings of impending fiscal calamity, most rank-and-file Republicans have refused to agree to higher taxes. Republican lawmakers blamed Democrats for years of overspending. Kansas officials said Monday that the state has suspended income tax refunds and may not be able to pay employees on time.

The state doesn’t have enough money in its main budget account to pay its bills, prompting Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to suggest borrowing $225 million from other accounts throughout state government. But the move required approval from legislative leaders, and Republican leaders refused Monday.

Budget Director Duane Goossen said that without the money, he’s not sure the state can meet its payroll. About 42,000 state employees are scheduled to be paid again Friday.

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