12:33 AM PDT on Sunday, April 17, 2011

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Inland Southern California is an increasingly popular destination in the state’s budget showdown between Republicans and Democrats.

Tuesday, Assembly Speaker John A. Perez will be in Rialto for an education budget summit, the first of several budget-related events being planned by Assembly Democrats.

That comes a day after state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson, a Democrat, and Inland state Sen. Bill Emmerson, a Republican member of the Senate budget committee, speak at a town hall at Riverside Community College.

Later in the week, the California Republican Party’s “speak out” budget tour comes to Riverside. And at the end of the month, the state Senate budget panel will convene in Ontario.

The well-trod path began with Gov. Jerry Brown, who visited Riverside’s Arlanza Elementary School last Friday to talk about the budget.

California has closed about $11.2 billion of an estimated $26.6 billion budget gap. For weeks, Brown has tried without success to get Republican support to ask voters to extend higher taxes on income, sales and vehicle registrations approved in 2009.

Brown and Democrats contend that schools and public safety will incur billions in additional cuts without the revenue. Republican lawmakers accuse the Democrats of scare tactics and have demanded changes in how government operates, such as a hard spending cap and reduced employee pensions.

At loggerheads in Sacramento, all parties are hitting the road to try to win over the public. The Inland area is on everyone’s itinerary.

Last month’s census data highlighted the region’s huge population growth, particularly among Latinos. It also is a political swing area, unlike Los Angeles or San Francisco.

“You’re closer to the media headquarters in those places, but you’re not likely to change many minds,” said Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College. “If you’re going to win the battle for hearts and minds of Californians, the battleground is in places like Rialto.”

Joining Perez in Rialto will be Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys, the chairman of the Assembly budget panel, and Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto.

The afternoon event will fittingly be at Wilmer Amina Carter High School; Carter was a longtime Rialto school board member before being elected to the Assembly in 2006.

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