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February 22, 2011 > Democrats push modified version of Brown's budget

Democrats push modified version of Brown's budget

By Judy Lin, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP), Feb 18 - Serious budget negotiations are expected to begin in the weeks ahead as the two houses of the Legislature wrapped up their preliminary versions of California's spending plan Friday.

Assembly Democrats passed a modified version of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget by majority vote without Republican support. Democrats in the Senate are expected to do the same later in the day. From there, the two plans will be consolidated into a single package, leading to more detailed negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders.

``It is an extremely painful budget, but we're ready to adopt these very tough cuts and ask voters to extend tough taxes to solve California's deficit once and for all,'' Democratic Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield of Van Nuys, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, said ahead of that committee's vote.

Brown, a Democrat, has proposed a combination of spending cuts and temporary tax extensions to close a $26.6 billion deficit. He called for $12.5 billion in spending cuts, including reductions in welfare, social services and higher education, as well as $12 billion in funding shifts and new revenue if voters agree to extend temporary taxes.

Increases to the sales, income and vehicle taxes approved two years ago are set to expire this year, but Brown wants them extended for five years.

He told reporters Friday afternoon that he wanted Republicans to detail cuts that are acceptable to them if they don't support putting the tax question before voters. ``The only plan B is double the cuts,'' Brown said, adding that he remains fairly confident he can gain enough support for his plan.

He also wants to shift more responsibility for public safety and child welfare services to county and city governments, while eliminating local redevelopment agencies that have been established to combat blight and promote local development projects. Brown said the additional property tax revenue generated by redevelopment projects should go to local schools, courts and other services.

He has argued that local governments are better positioned to operate programs that directly address issues in their communities, but local officials have said they are concerned that the state might not provide enough money to fund the services.

Blumenfield said Democrats support the governor's approach but indicated they would prefer an alternative that can achieve the same amount of budget savings without eliminating redevelopment agencies. Local government officials have objected to Brown's plan, forcing lawmakers to consider a compromise.

Some lawmakers have proposed alternatives that would allow redevelopment agencies to continue while funneling some of their tax money to local services, but the issue has yet to be negotiated by party leaders.

While Democrats embraced most of Brown's plan, they rejected what they described as the worst proposals- ending welfare for poor children after four years, eliminating adult day health care and capping the number of doctor's visits for Medi-Cal recipients. They accepted the governor's request to require Medi-Cal recipients to pay $5 for doctor's visits and $50 for emergency room visits. Recipients currently receive those services for free.

Democrats also expressed support for Brown's recommendation to reduce the lifetime limit for welfare assistance from five years to four.

The governor is asking lawmakers to call a June special election so voters can consider a ballot measure to extend the temporary tax increases. That timeframe is putting pressure on the Legislature to act by the middle of March.

GOP lawmakers so far have refused to put the tax question before voters and not put out their own budget plan. Their support is necessary to meet a two-thirds vote requirement for legislative ballot measures.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen of Gerber, vice chairman of the Assembly's budget committee, said the governor made a ``reasoned and sincere attempt to come up with solutions that are long term,'' but noted that many areas of the budget have yet to be defined. The GOP contends the Democratic package passed by the Assembly only makes $6.8 billion in cuts, about half as much as Democrats say they are cutting.

``So much is unspecified right now, particularly as related to realignment,'' Nielsen said of shifting some responsibilities to local governments. ``There is concern that the taxes are five years as being proposed now, and folks were told this was going to be a two-year (tax). Now that temporary tax is a seven-year tax. And I think that is problematic.''

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