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Budget Negotiations in Sacramento Continue

Legislators Face "No Budget, No Paycheck" Prospect If There's No Deal by June 15 Deadline

By Jeff Hudson - June 9, 2011

Will this be the week that Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento finally hammer out a deal on a new state budget? Or will the process drag out into late June, July, August, or even September?

As of Thursday morning, it was still too soon to say. But several factors point toward the possibility of an agreement sooner rather than later.

The constitutional deadline for the Legislature to adopt a budget is June 15 – just a few days hence. And there is a new incentive for California’s legislators (who have routinely ignored the constitutional deadline in past years) to get the job done by next Wednesday.

As a result of voter approval of Proposition 25 last November, legislators are facing a “no budget, no paycheck” situation.  State Controller John Chiang indicated that he will permanently withhold Legislators’ salary and per diem beginning on June 16 if they have not approved a budget. “Presenting the Governor with a balanced budget by the Constitutional deadline is the most important, if not most difficult, job of the California Legislature,” says Chiang.

Another factor in the mix is the expected announcement on Friday of the first draft of revised legislative districts, part of the reapportionment process that plays out every ten years, in the wake of the release of new population figures by the U.S. Census.

This year, for the first time, the new legislative maps are being drawn up by the non-partisan Citizens Redistricting Commission, under a process approved by California voters when they passed Proposition 11 in 2008. This week, the League of Women Voters of California praised the work of the Citizens Redistricting Commission thusfar. “Californians have engaged enthusiastically in the process of redrawing the lines,” said LWVC President Janis R. Hirohama. “Unlike redistricting in the past, this process has been open and transparent – a true citizen-driven process.”

In the past, when elected officials have largely directed the redistricting process, the legislative map has tended to be dominated by “safe” districts in which incumbents hold a substantial advantage. Many observers feel that this has resulted in less willingness among legislators to reach political compromises on the state budget and other matters.

Democrats are clearly hoping that when the new draft maps are released on Friday, some Republican legislators may conclude that it would be in their best interest to forge some sort of budget deal with the Democrats – either because they think this would play well among voters in their newly-redrawn district, or because they don’t plan to seek re-election in their newly redrawn district (and are therefore freer to vote their conscience, rather than bow to the Republican Party’s rigid stance on state revenues). Recent polls have indicated that most California voters do not want to see the kind of cuts that will occur for K-12 education funding under the all-cuts budget that the Republican leadership has favored thusfar.

Negotiations between Gov. Brown, legislative Democrats and legislative Republicans continued in Sacramento.  On Thursday, reports by Capital Public Radio and other media outlets indicated that the various parties are close to a budget deal that would also include a regulatory overhaul of some state regulatory process, changes in some state pensions, an election in the fall that would let voters decide whether to extend certain state taxes that will expire on June 15, and a spending cap on state government.

However, Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) indicated that there are sticking points. One is the three-month extension of certain state taxes that is being sought by Democrats, which would keep the existing temporary taxes in place until voters decide whether or not to approve them in September (or later).

Another sticking point is the number of ballot propositions to be placed before California voters. Democrats reportedly want one omnibus proposition. Huff and some other Republicans prefer to put three propositions on the ballot, raising the prospect that voters might approve some, but not others.

In an effort to focus public attention on the impact of the state budget crisis on education, an Internet-based “town hall” meeting was held last Thursday, featuring several speakers who described the dire circumstances that school districts face as the uncertainty over the state budget continues.

If an all-cuts budget is the outcome of the long-stalemated negotiations in Sacramento, funding for K-12 schools would be cut by another $4 billion—a “truly devastating situation,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who added, “Many school districts aren’t prepared for the depths of the cuts that will occur” if temporary extensions of sales and income taxes sought by Gov. Brown are not enacted.

The hour-long “town hall” forum, featuring Sen. Darrell Steinberg (the Senate Democratic leader), Torlakson, and California Community College system Chancellor Jack Scott, can be viewed at the online link.

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