Budget Overtures Fall on Deaf Ears

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Assembly Democrats attempted to lure their Republican counterparts Friday into approving the state budget by serving up a plan to shower agricultural communities with tens of millions of dollars in tax relief.

The plan failed.

Republicans in both houses of the Legislature halted passage of California's $101-billion budget earlier this week because it does not maintain a quarter-cent cut in the state sales tax. The quarter-cent reduction would cost state coffers an estimated $600 million and consequently save taxpayers the same amount over six months.

The budget bill was defeated again in the Assembly on Friday on a vote of 49 to 27, falling five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for it to pass. Democrats had tried to tie its passage to a measure containing an array of tax breaks and other incentives totaling more than $60 million designed to benefit the rural communities that many Republicans represent.

Assembly Republicans voiced support for the measure, SB 347, which would have provided a $22.5-million sales tax exemption for agricultural machinery, which is known around the Capitol as the tractor tax. It also would have exempted sales taxes on certain purchases of propane and diesel fuels made by agricultural communities at a savings of more than $20 million.

But Republicans balked at a provision in the legislation that said the bill would take effect only if the state's 2001-02 budget was approved by Monday.

"As we cut this tractor tax, we're not about to be bulldozed on a bad budget with a sales tax increase," said Assemblyman Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield.)

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) took issue with Republican contentions that removing the sales tax cut would hurt the poor. Continuing the cut, she said, would affect funding for programs that most benefit them.

"Please don't cry for the poor when you're trying to take programs away from them," Goldberg said.

After the Republicans withheld their support for the budget Friday, a crucial number of Democrats did the same with the agricultural bill, which went down on a vote of 52 to 0.

The Assembly is scheduled to meet again tonight at 9--three hours from a midnight deadline for Gov. Gray Davis to sign the budget by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

"How the hell do you look yourself in the eye and say I didn't do it," Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) said in an interview. "I didn't approve the budget on time."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°