Budget Still Stalled in Assembly Impasse


Assembly Republicans made good on their threat Thursday to block legislation needed to implement California's estimated $101-billion budget.

But Democratic and GOP leaders were negotiating a possible settlement late Thursday night to resolve their differences so that the spending plan and accompanying legislation could be sent to the Senate in time for the Legislature to recess starting today.

The gamesmanship over the budget has embroiled Sacramento for weeks, with both sides elbowing for political position even as state workers miss paychecks and a host of programs await word of their fate. At times, Democrats have seemed poised for a breakthrough, only to have victory elude them.

As the talks drag on, Assembly Republicans are seeking a series of tax cuts and a constitutional amendment requiring that all state taxes paid by motorists be spent on transportation. A spokeswoman for Gov. Gray Davis said he would consider that possibility.

The negotiations represented the latest twist in the Democrats' effort to gain passage of the state's 2001-02 budget, now 20 days late.

Assembly Republicans had sought a continuation of a quarter-cent cut of the state sales tax on gasoline in exchange for their support for the budget. Democratic leaders balked at the demand, however, citing softening revenues as a key reason state coffers could ill afford to extend the tax cut.

The Democrats instead unleashed an intense lobbying effort that resulted in four Republicans defying their party by voting for the budget Monday. To win their support, Democrats added nearly $80 million to the spending plan, with much of the money targeted at programs and tax breaks to benefit the lawmakers' districts.

After that, however, GOP lawmakers threw the Democrats for a loop when they refused to vote for a series of measures that map out how money in the budget is to be spent. Like the budget blueprint, the legislation requires at least four Republican votes in addition to the Assembly Democratic votes to achieve the two-thirds majority needed for approval.

But Republicans withheld the crucial votes, saying the measures extended state funding for abortions. They also took issue with another bill that contained Davis' proposal to use $1.3 billion in transportation money to balance the budget.

"This trailer bill steals money. . . . It steals money from transportation," Assembly Republican Leader Dave Cox of Fair Oaks said.

Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, the Sylmar Democrat who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, told lawmakers that the funding shift was needed to avoid cuts to other programs, including education.

But the biggest battle was waged over a bill that seeks to extend health care to poor adults, those who cannot afford insurance. Assembly Republicans contend the measure expands funding for abortion.

"You are condemning to death 10,000 unborn Californians every month with taxpayer money," Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia) said.

Countered Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno): "When you vote on this bill . . . you are funding health care in my district and yours for people who don't see a doctor because it is too expensive."

While the fate of the four measures blocked by Republicans remained unresolved late into the evening Thursday, about six other bills needed to implement the budget cleared the Assembly.

Passage of the legislation is crucial because Senate leader John Burton (D-San Francisco) has said he will not take up the budget until the accompanying measures thave cleared the lower house.

The race to wrap the budget and the series of bills that go with it picked up Thursday; lawmakers are scheduled to begin a monthlong break today.

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