For the ninth consecutive year, the Legislature on Thursday missed its constitutional deadline for approving a state budget, but the Assembly--led by Republican Speaker Doris Allen--resurrected Gov. Pete Wilson's proposed 15% income tax cut.
Allen's maneuver on the tax cut plan--even as Assembly Republicans increased their attacks on her--left Allen's fellow GOP legislators with no choice but to vote with her because they all support the tax cut.
Immediately after the vote, the warring broke out again as Assembly Republicans attempted to remain in session to work on the budget. But Allen and the lower house's Democrats joined in adjourning the floor session, leaving several GOP legislators sputtering with rage.
Freshman Assemblyman Brian Setencich (R-Fresno), who presided over the session and who was one of only two Assembly Republicans allied with Allen, banged the gavel loudly, ending the day's debate. "If we continue to act like this," Setencich said, "then we're never going to be able to pass a budget."
The tax cut is a major part of Wilson's proposed $56-billion budget. But it had been killed in committee in the Assembly and state Senate. Allen managed to revive the proposal by bringing it directly to the Assembly floor. It must return to the Assembly for another vote, and its prospects remain uncertain at best.
The Legislature appears to be weeks, perhaps months, away from approving a state budget, raising the possibility that California will be unable to pay all its bills after the new fiscal year begins July 1.
"The Assembly is so engrossed in partisan warfare, especially among the Republicans" that it is impossible to predict when a budget accord might be reached, said Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward).
The budget faces strong opposition from Democrats. It must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
"No one has a majority, much less two-thirds," said Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), who is on a joint Senate-Assembly conference committee trying to resolve differences on the budget. Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), another member of the conference committee, said the most difficult items are unresolved.
The conference committee has failed to reach compromises on major parts of Wilson's proposed budget--ranging from the tax cut and prison spending to 10% cuts in welfare and a 10% tuition increase at the state's colleges and universities. Wilson has not gotten involved in the budget talks so far.
"Glacial," state Sen. Quentin Kopp, a San Francisco independent who is on the budget conference committee, said in characterizing the speed at which the budget process is moving.
Legislators have met the June 15 deadline only five times since 1974. Although lawmakers routinely miss the deadline, budget experts could recall few years in which they seemed to be so far apart on so many spending issues this late in the process.
Under the state Constitution, the Legislature must approve the budget and send it to the governor, who must sign it into law by July 1. There is no penalty for failing to meet the deadlines and the state can pay its bills for a short time without a budget. In 1992, the state was forced to issue IOUs to vendors and state employees when Wilson and the Legislature failed to reach an accord until the end of August, two months into the fiscal year.
In the chaotic Assembly, Allen continued to fend off rumors, innuendoes and verbal assaults. She also fired back, exercising the power of the speakership by rearranging the seating, putting her most vocal opponents at the rear of the Assembly chamber.
"I wanted the playpen in the back," Allen said later.
When the session opened, Allen turned to Assemblyman Fred Aguiar (R-Chino) and said, "I have hijacked your bill"--enraging Aguiar and other Republicans. Allen went on to explain that she was taking control of the bill so she could add Wilson's 15% income tax cut. The tax cut, contained in a bill by Assembly Republican Leader Jim Brulte, had died in an Assembly committee earlier in the session.
Allen said she was removing the names of Aguiar and Brulte from the bills, and substituting her own--prompting Pringle, a Brulte loyalist, to suggest an amendment of his own, one to remove Allen's name from the bill and restore Brulte's.
Allen and the Democrats promptly voted down Pringle's proposed name change. But after the vote, Allen relented and said she would allow Brulte's name to appear on the tax cut bill. She explained that she was opposing Pringle's move because she was "being jammed" by Pringle.
Later, when Setencich banged the gavel ending the session, Republicans erupted. Assemblywoman Barbara Alby (R-Fair Oaks) shouted that Setencich acted without authority. She rushed to the podium, declaring that Republicans could seize the gavel, but was headed off when she arrived.
Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) called Setencich a GOP outcast. "It's not our guy," she said. "It's their guy, it's their guy. Trust me, it's not our guy."
While the state budget remains unresolved, Allen and other Republicans were battling over a different type of money--campaign funds. Brulte sent lobbyists a letter instructing them that he remains in charge of Assembly Republicans' fund raising, even though Allen is Speaker.
Allen hired Democratic fund-raiser Toni Roberts to organize a June 26 event in Sacramento. Allen said she was forced to turn to the Democrat because Republican legislators had threatened Republican fund-raisers with a boycott if they agreed to help Allen raise money.
"I had to find someone who would do the fund-raiser up here who is good and wouldn't be walking away from me," Allen said.