Calif. lawmakers set budget vote as deadline looms

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers have scheduled a Friday budget vote on their plan to balance a $15.7 billion deficit as they run up against a constitutional deadline or risk losing their pay.

With Gov. Jerry Brown refusing to sign off on their plan, Democratic leaders said they would work to pass a budget and continue negotiations with him on several sticking points, particularly welfare cuts.

Democrats are urging the governor to back off from plans to cut programs that assist the poor, but Brown maintains the reductions are needed to help bring the state back to fiscal balance. Democrats, in turn, are resisting deeper cuts to the state’s welfare-to-work program known as CalWORKS, child care assistance for low-income families, in-home supportive services, and eliminating Cal Grants for students who attend private colleges.

Both sides assume voters will approve Brown’s initiative on the November ballot to raise the sales tax by a quarter cent and increase income taxes for people who make more than $250,000 a year.

A Field Poll released last week showed that a slim majority of likely California voters support the initiative, with the proposal leading by a 52 percent to 35 percent margin.

The measure is projected to raise $8.5 billion through mid-2013. If voters reject the tax hike, schools and other public entities would be subject to severe automatic cuts, which include shortening the educational year by several weeks.

The two sides disagree on how to distribute money to local governments that once went to community redevelopment agencies.

“We have worked closely with the governor all year, and there are small but important differences to resolve in the coming days,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Friday.

The Legislature faces a midnight Friday deadline to pass a balanced spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Democrats said they intend to pass the main budget bill, which will keep their paychecks coming.

California lawmakers do not receive pensions but are the highest paid in the nation with a base annual salary of $95,290. Nearly all receive additional tax-free per diem payments of about $30,000 a year. Lawmakers are scheduled to see their pay cut 5 percent, or down to $90,525, starting Dec. 3.

On Thursday, Republicans sent letters to the state controller and treasurer asking them to verify whether the Democrats‘ budget proposal is balanced even though they have no authority over legislative pay.

Last year the governor vetoed the budget passed by Democrats, calling it unbalanced. The state controller withheld 12 days’ pay but a judge has since found that the controller has no authority to block paychecks because it violated the separation of powers clause of the California Constitution.

Steinberg said the majority party plans to pass several companion bills but will delay voting on more contentious issues such as Brown’s request to release financing for construction on the first leg of a bullet train in the Central Valley.

Brown spokesman Gil Duran said, “discussions are ongoing.”

Democrats agree with the governor on many aspects of his $91.4 billion spending plan.

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