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Schwarzenegger Releases New Budget Plan, Gov-Elect Brown Replies with His Own Budget Summit

By Jeff Hudson - December 9, 2010

Outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made one last try at overhauling California’s budget on Monday, calling a special session of the legislature and releasing a new budget proposal, even though he has only a few weeks remaining in his term.

Not to be outdone, incoming Governor Jerry Brown held a high profile “budget summit” in Sacramento on Wednesday.  The event did not yield a great deal in the way of substance – the reality is that Brown can’t really do anything until he is sworn in during the first few days of January.  But the event provided an opportunity for Brown to appear as the convener and leader of a wide-ranging discussion of California’s budget mess, receiving input from the heads of several state agencies, and various legislators.

But Brown did make his first significant move since the November election, by announcing on Tuesday that he will retain Ana Matosantos (who was appointed by Schwarzenegger in December 2009) as his finance director.  Although she has served under a Republican governor, Matosantos is a Democrat.  Brown said Matosantos “has what it takes” to help get the state through its present fiscal travail.

Schwarzenegger’s new budget proposal was widely viewed as a rehash of ideas he has proposed before – and failed to get through the state legislature, which has a Democratic majority in both houses.  The Governor's proposals consist of $7.4 billion of expenditure-related reductions and two major revenue proposals.  Three-quarters of Schwarzenegger's proposed budget solutions would come from spending cuts, including eliminating the CalWorks program, and making deep reductions in health and social programs.  Essentially all of these proposals were rejected earlier this year by the prior Legislature.

Schwarzenegger basically acknowledged that he was peddling shopworn ideas when he expressed the feeling on Monday that “Sometimes you try some things over and over again, and you never give up.”

Republican legislators didn’t have much to say about Gov. Schwarzenegger’s newest budget plan.  And Assembly Speaker John Pérez (a Democrat) said “Assembly Democrats believe working with the new Governor offers the best path to responsible deficit reduction and, more important, to a budget that saves and creates the jobs California needs.”

Democratic legislators are reportedly leery of reopening the budget, which might give Schwarzenegger another opportunity to use his line item veto.  Democrats still vividly recall being stung last fall by Schwarzenegger’s line item vetoes of funding for the California Department of Education’s CALPADS data system, funding for student mental health services, and other budget items.

The outgoing governor’s “late-in-the-game” budget proposal also came at a time when the partisan lineup in the legislature is in transition.  With the new batch of legislators who were sworn in last week, the party breakdown will feature 52 Democrats and 28 Republicans in the Assembly, along with 24 Democrats and 14 Republicans in the Senate.  Two legislative seats are up for grabs in upcoming special elections, and a third will be vacated in January by Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), who was elected in November to the state Board of Equalization.

Brown’s budget summit on Wednesday was intended as “a gathering of state lawmakers to jump-start the discussion on the bad budget situation” that awaits the Governor-elect when he takes office early next month.

During the Brown budget summit, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) took a jab at Schwarzenegger by thanking Brown “for beginning to lead an intelligent conversation about the Budget in California.  It is long overdue.”

Mac Taylor, who heads the Legislative Analyst’s Office, offered the sobering economic prediction that “it will take about eight years before (California’s) job total equals what it was before the start of recession,” meaning that state government will face financial challenges for some time to come.

Brown’s budget summit is apparently the first in a series of events; he  reportedly intends to hold more budget-related forums during the weeks ahead.

Editor's Note:  Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.