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Legislature sends new budget to Gov. Brown

June 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
California lawmakers are pushing ahead with a new state budget, passing a bill Tuesday night and sending it to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Lawmakers began debating the new budget package Tuesday evening. The state Assembly passed the main budget bill to close the remaining $9.6-billion deficit Tuesday night, sending the bill to the state Senate. The state Senate passed the bill a few hours later.

The Legislature sent a nearly $86 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins Friday to Brown. He was certain to sign it because he struck the compromise with his fellow Democrats days earlier, after failing to get Republican support for tax increases.

The budget passed the Assembly first on a 51-25 vote and then got the bare majority needed in the Senate: 21 votes.

The latest Democratic budget will let temporary tax hikes expire this week. The state sales tax will drop 1 percent and the vehicle license fee will decrease by almost half. The personal income tax surcharge already expired in January.

"It's absolutely a win for taxpayers. The average family of four is going to see an additional $1,000 in their pocket over the next tax year," said state Assemblyman Donald Wagner (R-Irvine).

Democrats in no way though see this as a win. Because Republicans wouldn't support extending those taxes, state services could see deeper cuts to make up for the lost revenue.

If another $4 billion doesn't materialize by the end of the year, public schools could be on the chopping block again, lopping off another week and a half of classes.

"The economy is still so incredibly fragile. To have a lot of that balanced by what happens to education is nerve-wracking to schools," said Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for public schools.

But with the state already billions of dollars above forecast, it's possible additional cuts can be avoided.

Still, Democrats feel Republicans gave them no choice but to authorize more cuts with a simple majority, a new power voters gave them last fall.

"As a Democrat, it pains me because I know the cuts that we're voting on today have consequences for real people in all communities throughout the state," said state Senator Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles).

There is still some new revenue in the Democratic budget: the Amazon.com tax requires sales tax be collected from certain online retailers.

A new fee imposed on homeowners who live in wildfire-prone areas will pay for fire protection.

And a $12 fee on car registrations will help fund the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Taxpayer groups are already considering legal action on the fees because, by law, taxes require a two-thirds vote.

"This is one of these areas where they're trying to impose a tax, and they're calling it a fee. So whenever government does that, they run into potential legal problems," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Lawmakers have a motivation to get this budget done: They haven't been paid since June 16, and won't be until they pass a balanced budget

Five Republican lawmakers have asked state Attorney General Kamala Harris if State Controller John Chiang has the authority to dock their checks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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