California Legislative Leaders Face Friday Budget Deadline

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Friday, June 15th is California’s constitutional deadline to pass a balanced budget through both houses of the state legislature. According to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Democratic leaders are close to making a deal, and the final budget plan will head to the floor for a vote on Friday as scheduled.

Budget talks have been particularly difficult this year as Governor Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders struggled to find agreement on how to close California’s $15.7 billion deficit. Governor Jerry Brown presented a series of heavy but necessary cuts to health and welfare programs earlier this year in his May revise proposal, which quickly received pushback from both Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez. Both Steinberg and Perez have been dropping hints that they’re looking at significantly lowering California’s budget reserve in an effort to fill the gap and avoid cuts at the level Brown has proposed.

Traditionally, a series of “Big 5” budget talks would occur between the Governor and leaders from both parties and houses before a final budget deal was hashed out. This year saw a departure from that routine as Republican leaders have noticeably been left out of the conversation.

Republican leaders are now urging a 48 hour public review period before the Legislative Budget goes for a vote. Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway issued the following joint statement:

“Today is just four days before the Legislature’s constitutional deadline to pass a balanced budget, yet it has been disappointing to see the majority party engage in a sham budget process.  While Democrats talk about openness and accountability, all we have seen from them are smoked-filled rooms and back-room deals, shutting out taxpayers and the news media.  Budgets thrown together behind closed doors or passed in the middle of the night are one of the main reasons why California is facing chronic deficits today.”

“With the majority party crafting a budget that could harm our public schools and threaten public safety, it is imperative that it be done out in the open.  That’s why we are calling upon our Democrat colleagues to allow at least a 48-hour review period before a budget vote is taken.   The people have a right to know how the Legislature is spending their hard-earned tax dollars, and allowing a 48-hour review period will give them the chance to make their voices heard and hold their representatives accountable.”

Although Republican votes would be necessary to pass any proposed tax increases, they are no longer necessary in passing the state budget due to a ballot proposition in 2010 that allowed for a simple majority vote on the budget. Governor Brown has decided to completely sidestep Republicans on the tax issue this year by putting his $8.5 million tax hike directly before voters on November’s ballot- effectively eliminating the role of Republicans in closed door talks.

The final budget being negotiated between Governor Brown and Democratic leadership probably won’t rely heavily on accounting gimmicks- which have been favored in years past. A failure by the Legislature to deliver real numbers and cuts in the budget this year can seriously hurt the chances of Brown’s tax initiative passing in November. Such a sizeable tax increase proposal is already a hard sell on its own, and would undoubtedly suffer if the public’s distrust in the Governor’s ability to deliver a balanced budget continues to grow.

This year’s budget is also likely to be on time as promised, unless lawmakers care to lose their pay and compensation for everyday they fail to produce a balanced budget. The “no budget, no pay” aspect is yet another result of California’s ballot initiative system- voters approved the measure in 2010 in an effort to ensure that a budget is in place by the constitutional deadline.

Assembly Democrats have already released their version of the budget plan that includes a drop in the “rainy day fund” paired with smaller cuts to health and welfare programs. The proposal will be heard in committee tomorrow, and is available here: Assembly Budget Committee

A full vote is expected on Friday, but no word yet on where Governor Brown stands with the current proposal.