Calif. lawmakers pass budget, but work unfinished

June 15, 2012 - 9:31 PM

CORRECTION California Budget

CORRECTS DATE TO FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2012- State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, right, shakes hands with Senate Budge Committee Chairman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, before the Senate took up the state budget at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, June, 15, 2012. The Senate approved the budget plan by a 23-16 vote and sent it to the Assembly.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers passed a $92 billion budget Friday to keep their paychecks coming, but they left welfare cuts and other difficult issues unresolved with Gov. Jerry Brown.

Democratic lawmakers in the Senate passed the main budget bill that outlines state spending on a 23-16 vote without Republican support. Majority Democrats in the Assembly also passed the measure, 50-25.

The budget and a handful of companion bills were sent to Brown well before midnight, when a constitutional deadline would have cut off lawmakers' pay. But Democrats did not take up any of the contentious bills needed to implement the spending plan because they refuse to make deeper cuts to the state's welfare-to-work program and other social services for the poor.

That leaves more negotiations to come, since the Democratic governor wants welfare reform and a larger reserve to help pull the state out of its projected $15.7 billion deficit. And the whole package hinges on voters approving an initiative in November to raise taxes.

Republicans called the plan incomplete and urged Brown to veto the budget bill.

"Today we are voting on half a dozen budget-related bills when there are at least 29 needed to balance the budget," said Sen. Bill Emmerson, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "Despite the spin, this budget is full of borrowing and gimmicks."

California's new fiscal year begins July 1. Without a budget in place, the state will not be able make certain payments to school districts and vendors, or pay the salaries of elected officials and staff. Democratic leaders said they hope to work out a deal with the governor in the next week.

Brown did not indicate Friday whether he would sign or veto the bill. Democrats would need Republican support to obtain the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

Brown spokesman Gil Duran said negotiations were continuing.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he expected the governor may not act until all the bills are before him.

"We will engage in more discussion with the governor about the remaining issues that have been vetted and discussed throughout this week," the Sacramento Democrat said.

In passing the main budget bill, AB1464, before midnight Friday, lawmakers met the minimum requirement to keep their paychecks flowing under a voter-approved measure that blocks lawmakers' pay if a budget is late.

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 Controller John Chiang has no authority to block paychecks because it violates the separation of powers clause of the California Constitution.

Chiang has until July 9 to file an appeal.

"The controller believes the court's ruling undermines the voters' will to hold lawmakers accountable for the failure to pass a timely and balanced budget," said Hallye Jordan, spokeswoman for the controller's office.

California lawmakers receive a base annual salary of $95,290, making them the highest paid legislators in the nation. They don't get a pension but nearly all receive additional tax-free per diem payments of about $30,000 a year.

Republicans on Thursday sent letters to the state controller and treasurer asking them to verify whether the Democrats' latest budget proposal is balanced.

Treasurer Bill Lockyer responded Friday, saying the plan is "financeable" and would allow the state to borrow about $10 billion for cash flow needs for the fiscal year.

In introducing the Democratic spending plan, Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Bob Blumenfield said lawmakers tried to soften the most severe cuts to social services and proposed "more compassionate alternatives to some of the governor's proposals."

The two sides disagree on how to distribute money to local governments that once went to community redevelopment agencies. Brown also has proposed a 5 percent reduction in state worker pay that still must be negotiated with unions.

Both the governor's plan and the Democratic legislators' plan assume voters will approve Brown's tax initiative that's projected to raise $8.5 billion through mid-2013.

While both plans propose filling the remaining shortfall with a combination of cuts and shuffling funds, Brown wants more cuts to child care, in-home support, college aid and the welfare-to-work program known as CalWORKS.

On Friday, dozens of demonstrators lined the Capitol Rotunda to protest cuts to funding for in-home health care service providers. Many were in wheelchairs or used walkers to navigate the Capitol.

Brown's measure seeks to raise the state sales tax by a quarter cent and increase income taxes for people who make more than $250,000 a year. 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.

A Field Poll released last week showed that a slim majority of likely California voters, 52 percent, support the initiative, and 35 percent were opposed, with the rest undecided. The poll, conducted in late May, had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

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Associated Press writers Don Thompson and Hannah Dreier contributed to this report.