James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Created: 10/11/2010 04:52:52 PM PDT

SACRAMENTO – Nearly nine months after he was elected to the post, State Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, took over Monday as the Senate Republican leader.

Dutton, who is two years into his final term in the Senate, takes over as one of the state’s top legislative leaders as California’s economy continues to struggle and as state agencies continue to deal with deep budget cuts. He said those issues top his list of priorities.

“Until we get the economy healthy again and create employment opportunities, you cannot solve the economic woes of the state,” he said. “You cannot provide the programs people want to provide if we do not have a healthy private sector.”

He said he’d like to see the state ease up on business regulation and take other steps to encourage businesses to expand.

Dutton was set to take the reins of the Senate Republican caucus Sept. 1, but that schedule was set with the assumption that the state budget would have been approved by that point.

With budget negotiations ongoing, outgoing leader Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Temecula, stayed put.

But on Friday, the 100th day of the 2010-11 fiscal year, the Legislature approved a 2010-11 budget, clearing the way for Dutton.

While he was one of the few Republicans to vote for the new spending plan, Dutton said Monday that the new budget is not realistic. It calls for, among other things, $5.4 billion in federal funding that might not materialize.

“The budget we enacted, frankly, was out of balance the day it was signed,” he said. “About 40 percent of it was legitimate changes – cuts and reductions that are for real. The other 60 percent is questionable. It leaves us with a $10 billion to $15 billion deficit next year.”

Asked when the Legislature should start work on the next budget, he said. “I started yesterday.”

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