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California one vote shy of reaching deal on budget

Tue., Feb. 17, 2009

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California lawmakers on Monday were locked in a frustrating search for one more vote to approve a $42 billion budget-balancing plan state leaders say is needed to stave off fiscal disaster.

The stalled effort prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to make good on an earlier promise to begin the layoff process for thousands of state workers, though under the state’s process it would take months for anyone to actually be laid off.

Lawmakers were in session for a state-record 30 hours before disbanding Sunday night, with many of them looking haggard and worn out after a futile attempt to secure the necessary votes. They regrouped Monday, but the expected budget votes kept getting pushed back.

By Monday night, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg announced that lawmakers had failed to find the final vote in his chamber as Republicans refused to support more than $14 billion in tax increases. He called a session for this morning and said he would put the tax provisions of the budget proposal up for a vote, even if they would not pass.

Lawmakers have been trying to pass a combination of spending cuts, tax hikes and additional borrowing negotiated by Schwarzenegger and leaders of both parties, who warn that California faces insolvency unless the Legislature enacts a midyear budget fix to close the projected $42 billion budget shortfall through June 2010.

The plan continues to fall short of votes because rank-and-file Republicans have refused to agree to $14.4 billion in higher taxes. Lawmakers believe there are enough GOP votes in the Assembly, but the Senate has fallen short by one.

State workers have been furloughed because of the budget crisis, some 2,000 public works projects are on hold and tax refunds and payments to vendors have been delayed. The state controller says the state will run out of cash at the end of the month if lawmakers do not act.

The governor had delayed releasing layoff notices on Friday when it appeared lawmakers would pass a compromise plan, but with marathon weekend sessions failing to produce the necessary votes, Schwarzenegger’s spokesman said the administration had no choice.

The notices will start going out today to 20,000 workers in agencies that receive money from the general fund. Administration officials are seeking to eliminate up to 10,000 jobs as part of the governor’s order to cut 10 percent from the payroll.

Tags: California

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