California Budget Still Not Approved

By: Steve Lawrence (AP)
By: Steve Lawrence (AP)

SACRAMENTO (AP) - California lawmakers wrapped up work on their 2008 legislation Sunday, but left their most important task - approval of a state budget - undone for a record-breaking 62nd day.

The failure to approve a budget by Sunday means the Legislature shattered at least the modern-day mark for late action on a budget. That was set in 2002, when lawmakers approved the budget on Aug. 31- two months after the start of a new fiscal year.

Legislators are deadlocked over how to deal with a $15.2 billion deficit. Democrats and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have proposed a combination of cuts and tax increases to erase the red ink.

But Republican lawmakers have balked at approving any tax hikes or closing tax loopholes. Instead, they've proposed cutting $1.6 billion more than Schwarzenegger and Democrats have supported and borrowing nearly $2 billion from state lottery proceeds.

The deadlock has delayed lawmakers' departure from the Capitol and prevented Schwarzenegger from speaking at the Republican National Convention. He was scheduled to address delegates in St. Paul, Minn., on Monday, but convention organizers canceled all but official party business that day as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the Gulf Coast.

Another convention speaker, Sen. Abel Maldonado, still plans to appear at the convention Wednesday unless there is a budget vote that day, said his spokeswoman, Brooke Armour.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said his house would meet every day until a budget was passed. He scheduled a Senate session for late Monday afternoon.

Assembly members are being required to remain within three hours' traveling distance of Sacramento. Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, is considering calling at least one Assembly meeting this week, spokesman Steve Maviglio said.

Lack of a budget prevents the state from making billions of dollars a month in payments, including support for some school programs, aid to local governments, payments to companies that supply prisons, hospitals and other state facilities, and the salaries of elected officials and their staffs.

State Controller John Chiang said he so far has not been able to write nearly $4.2 billion in checks. Failure to pass a budget by the end of September would hold up at least another $7.6 billion, he said.

A budget deadlock lasting that long also would test Schwarzenegger's attempt to force a budget agreement by pledging to veto, if necessary, any bills sent to his desk before lawmakers adopt a new state spending plan.

Sept. 30 is the deadline for him to act on bills sent to him in the last couple of weeks of the Legislature's session. Any bills not signed or vetoed by that date would become law without his signature and make his threat meaningless.

Sunday was the deadline for most bills to go to the governor, and lawmakers gave final approval to dozens of measures. Among them:

- A universal health care bill by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, that would establish a state-managed, Medicare-for-all style system to insure all Californians. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar proposal in 2006.

- Another Kuehl bill that would require health care plans to spend at least 85 percent of patients' premiums on medical care rather than administration.

- A bill by Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, that would enable illegal immigrants to qualify for modified California driver's licenses allowing them to drive legally on the state's roads. The licenses could not be used as federally recognized identification cards. Supporters say the measure would improve traffic safety, but Schwarzenegger has vetoed three previous versions of the bill, citing security concerns.

- Legislation by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, that would make California the first state to require chain restaurants to include the calorie counts of their standard items on menus or menu boards. Schwarzenegger vetoed a broader version of the bill last year that also required listing of salt, fat and carbohydrates in menus.

- A bill by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, that would set up a state program to study and potentially ban chemicals in consumer products believed to be harmful to human health. Supporters said that approach was better than lawmakers considering bills that would ban chemicals on an individual basis.

- A bill by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, that is designed to protect consumers from identity theft by prohibiting retailers from storing personal information except under certain conditions. When they do retain the data, retailers would have to follow specific guidelines to protect it.

A couple of prison-related measures failed.

The Senate again rejected a $7 billion borrowing plan to provide better health care for prison inmates, despite the threat that a federal judge will order the state to dip into its deficit-plagued budget to provide the money.

And the Assembly turned down a bill by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, that would create a commission to recommend changes in prison sentences. Supporters said the commission would unravel a bewildering mix of sentencing laws and help rein in skyrocketing prison costs. But opponents argued that it would lead to lighter sentences and a spike in crime.


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