Lawmakers offer bleak view of talks
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Created: 08/25/2010 09:43:35 PM PDT

Nearly eight weeks into the new fiscal year, California lawmakers aren’t even pretending they’re close to approving a state budget.

Asked if the Legislature would pass a spending plan before the November election, state Sen. Bob Huff, R-Walnut, quipped: “That’s possible.”

Lawmakers were supposed to pass a budget by June 15 for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Both those dates came and went without a budget. That means some local companies and agencies that do business with the state aren’t getting paid and it could mean some businesses and taxpayers will receive IOUs instead of cash from the state in the next few weeks.

But despite those consequences, Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, said he’s seen no sign of progress.

“I just don’t see any movement right now,” Cook said. “And this is from someone that’s supposedly `in the know.”‘

“Supposedly,” he said, because budget talks aren’t taking place among most legislators. At this point, those talks are being handled by the so-called Big Five – the governor and the top Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly and Senate.

But unlike in other years, Huff said, the Big Five aren’t meeting, at least not all together.

Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would have to call a Big Five meeting, and he has yet to do so.

“We are willing and able to have one,” she said. “For some reason, he has not called one.”

Even without formal negotiations or Big Five meetings, lawmakers from both parties know they’re at loggerheads over how to make up for a roughly $19 billion gap between spending and income.

Republicans, as they have every year in recent memory, say they want spending cuts, not new taxes.

“The Republican position is that we need to learn to live within the revenues that are there,” Huff said. “We just can’t keep going out to the money tree. There’s nothing there.”

Democrats, meanwhile, say the state has already made painful cuts and needs to look for more revenue. Trost implied that Republicans are nay-saying Democratic proposals without presenting alternatives.

“We’re still waiting for a counterproposal, amendments, tweaks, anything other than a `No’ from Schwarzenegger and the legislative Republicans,” Trost said.

Alfonso Sanchez, a spokesman for state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Montclair, said, “It doesn’t seem the governor is willing to close this deal.”

Cook and Huff said some lawmakers appear willing to wait until after the November election to pass a budget. A new governor and the passage or failure of a state ballot initiative could give either party’s position a boost.

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