- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

The California Legislature ended its three-month budget impasse Thursday, but not before axing state Controller John Chiang‘s plans for new office furniture.

Democratic leaders agreed to slice $1 million from the budget allocated for revamping Mr. Chiang’s offices at the insistence of state Sen. Abel Maldonado, a Republican. Mr. Maldonado had turned the furniture purchase into a symbol of reckless spending with the state teetering on the brink of financial insolvency.

At the height of the budget battle, Mr. Maldonado fired off a press release Feb. 3 accusing Mr. Chiang of spending $2 million on furniture for his “plush” office in the last seven months even as he was issuing IOUs for the state’s unpaid bills.

The original budget agreement included another $1 million for the project, and immediately was targeted by Mr. Maldonado as an item that could wreck any potential for a budget compromise.

“I cannot go to my constituents and tell them that this is a serious budget when it still funds pet projects like new office furniture for a renovated state office building,” said Mr. Maldonado in a Feb. 11 statement.

Mr. Chiang countered that the furniture was part of a $7 million, multi-year office expansion project approved before he became controller in 2006. He also argued that the expenditure would enable his office to consolidate, thus saving on future costs, as well as bring his office into compliance with work-place safety and disability laws.

Mr. Maldonado was the crucial vote necessary to break the logjam and pass a budget aimed at closing California’s $40 billion deficit. The state Senate approved the budget Thursday after pulling an all-nighter, then sent it to the state Assembly for its approval.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday he would sign the budget agreement Friday. The Republican governor had sided with Democratic legislators to support the deal, which includes $12.8 billion in tax hikes, $11.4 billion in borrowing and $15 billion in spending cuts.

Republicans had dug in to stop the budget deal, balking at the tax increases and calling for a relaxation of some union rules. Only three Republican senators and three Republican Assembly members voted for the plan.

“The taxpayers of California are going to view this as a loss,” said state Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, who took over as Republican minority leader Wednesday after former GOP head Sen. Dave Cogdill was ousted.

Breaking the stalemate was Mr. Maldonado, who agreed to vote for the budget package - for a price. In addition to the elimination of the controller’s new furniture, Mr. Maldonado won the Legislature’s approval of two constitutional amendments and the elimination of a 12-cent addition to the gas tax.

The first proposed constitutional amendment would establish an open primary system, in which the state would allow the two top candidates to face each other in the general election, regardless of their party affiliation.

The second proposed constitutional amendment would ban legislative pay increases during years in which the state is running a budget deficit.

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