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Lawmakers return to state budget deficit issue

January 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
California's legislature has gone back to work. The major issue remains the state's massive budget deficit and how to get rid of it. Lawmakers are already discussing program cuts that are sure to come.

This is an election year. The Democratic-led Legislature promises a full agenda, including making the budget deficit zero, which lawmakers have been trying for years.

"I joke that next to my desk there's a little indentation in my wall where I beat my head every day," said Assm. Budget Chairman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills).

The state Legislature may have gaveled in a new 2012 session, but the problems are still the same.

Lawmakers will once again have to tackle the nagging budget deficit, estimated to be $13 billion.

This time, though, Democrats want voters' help since Republicans wouldn't raise taxes.

Governor Jerry Brown is readying a ballot measure to increase the income tax on the wealthy and the sales tax on everyone else to prevent even deeper budget cuts.

"I think it's going to be a failure because I think the voters are going to be even less receptive to those massive tax increases to fund a broken government than the Republicans were," said Assm. Budget Vice-Chairman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber).

Already the Courage Campaign is helping Democrats by pushing the tax hikes through an online ad featuring Kim Kardashian. It highlights how the reality star made $12 million in 2010, but her tax rate isn't that much more than the average Californian.

One of the first bills introduced this session shows what's high on the Republicans' list of priorities this session: high-speed rail.

With the price tag now ballooning to nearly $100 billion, they want to ask voters to re-affirm their 2008 approval of bullet trains between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"It was a whole different set of dynamics than what is true now, of cost, of actual ridership, and the state of California's fiscal situation and the economy," said state Sen. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale).

"That vision has to be based on fiscal reality, and I think that's what the Republicans are bringing up, and I don't disagree with that," said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord).

Don't think the budget cuts are over. Brown's tax package erases only half the deficit, and he recently warned there's more slashing to do.