Assembly Passes Its Version of State Budget


After a day of battles over abortion, welfare and tax cuts, the state Assembly on Wednesday approved its version of the state's $63-billion budget with a bare majority, sending the spending plan to the Senate.

The Assembly vote was 41 to 32, with 40 Republicans joined by one Reform Party member to form the majority needed for approval. One Republican, former Speaker Brian Setencich of Fresno, joined Democrats in opposing the spending plan.

"This is [a tribute to] Republican administration of the Assembly," Assemblyman Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) said after the vote. "It's balanced. It provides $1.7 billion more for public schools. It cuts welfare. It cuts taxes."

The Senate is expected today to approve its version of the budget, one that differs significantly from what the Assembly approved. The houses will attempt to resolve differences in a joint conference committee, which will start work next week. The laborious chore will involve partisan fights ranging from how to spend education dollars to whether there should be another round of welfare cuts.

One of the main battles is likely to involve Gov. Pete Wilson's proposed 15% cut in income, corporation and banking taxes. The Assembly's version contains the tax cut; the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the proposal earlier this week.

The rhetorical battles have already begun. Wilson's press secretary, Sean Walsh, called the tax cut "a high priority" for the governor. But Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) said Wednesday that "everybody knows the tax cut is dead."

Wednesday's Assembly vote came after Republican conservatives rebelled against Wilson's proposals to provide abortion funding, and Democrats fought Wilson's tax and welfare cuts.

Although the 41 Assembly Republicans constitute a bare majority in the 80-member house, Democrats, joined by a handful of moderate Republicans, won several skirmishes leading up to the vote on the budget bill.

With support from the moderates, Democrats approved a provision to reinstate $70 million for Wilson's office of family planning, which operates programs to combat teenage pregnancy.

"That was a budget priority for the governor, and we expect it be approved as a part of the final budget," Walsh said.

Over objections of Assembly conservatives, Democrats also succeeded in striking out language approved by a Republican-controlled budget subcommittee that would have restricted state funding of abortions for poor women. Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) voted with conservatives to restrict abortion funding.

In one notable example of bipartisan agreement, Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined in opposing Wilson's proposal to cut $125 million from payments to the elderly, blind and disabled, a reduction of almost $30 a month for individuals. The measure by Assemblyman Tom Bordonaro (R-Paso Robles) passed on a 54-12 vote.

Democrats lost several other votes as they tried to restore more than $600 million in health and welfare cuts, plus another $520 million for an income tax credit for renters and $250 million for court-imposed school desegregation plans.

In addition to partisan splits, there were geographical divisions. Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) failed in her effort to have $50 million shifted to Los Angeles County to operate half of its new Twin Towers jail when lawmakers from other parts of the state joined in opposition.

But Budget Committee Chairman Gary G. Miller (R-West Covina) won approval of an amendment to take $400 million in state transportation money from the San Francisco Bay Area, essentially requiring that the Bay Area spend bridge toll revenue on earthquake reinforcement of its bridges. Sen. Lockyer, who is from the Bay Area city of Hayward, vowed to kill Miller's proposal.

The Legislature must approve the budget by a two-thirds vote--54 votes in the Assembly and 27 in the 40-member Senate.

With virtually no chance of obtaining a two-thirds vote on Wednesday, Republicans used a maneuver often employed by former Speaker Willie Brown, temporarily changing language in the budget bill so that they would need only 41 votes to win approval, thus sending it to a joint Senate-Assembly budget conference committee.

It remains uncertain whether Wednesday night's vote means that the Legislature will adopt a budget by its June 15 deadline, or the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. Both deadlines are missed routinely.

"I'm just voting to move it along," Assemblyman Steve Baldwin (R-El Cajon) said after voting for the Assembly budget. "There's going to be debate over welfare, taxes, abortion funding. Those are three hot issues."

After winning on several abortion issues Wednesday, Democrats seemed more optimistic that the budget could be completed quickly. "There aren't that many things to fight over," said Assemblyman Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles).

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