Gov. Brown signs new budget to close $15.7B gap; voters must approve


"This budget reflects tough choices that will help get California back on track," Brown said in a statement. "I commend the Legislature for making difficult decisions, especially enacting welfare reform and across-the-board pay cuts. All this lays the foundation for job growth and continuing economic expansion."

Democrats passed 21 budget implementing bills on a majority vote intended to satisfy the governor's demand for deeper cuts to close a $15.7 billion deficit.

If the tax initiative is rejected by voters in November, a series of automatic cuts will take effect. They include three weeks less of public school for the next two years.

Democrats also gave Brown's temporary tax hike measure a leg up on the November ballot Wednesday. They passed a bill giving all constitutional amendments -- like the governor's tax proposal -- and bonds top billing.

Since the water bond will likely be delayed until the 2014 election, critics call it a "tricky" maneuver.

"Lo and behold, the tax measure will be the number-one place on this November ballot," said state Sen. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale). "Is he worried about the tax measure?"

Voters tend to mark the "yes" box for measures high up on a long ballot, a boost the governor's tax plan could use since support for it has been sliding in recent opinion polls.

The ballot jockeying also appropriates $1,000 to the secretary of state to make the change, which made it an easier-to-pass budget bill.

Democrats deny any political shenanigans here, saying that since the tax measure means massive cuts to public education if it doesn't pass, it deserves a high spot.

"The governor's tax measure is the most important measure on the ballot," said state Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "You better believe it. It is the opportunity to end this deficit once and for all."

Democrats also sent the governor a measure that eliminates the highly acclaimed Healthy Families program, which covers nearly a million uninsured kids and phases them into Medi-Cal.

In a reversal to the usual party-line budget fight, Republicans did not want to cut these services.

"This action is truly stunning to me because it reaches the level where it is going to hurt so many people," said state Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres).

Democrats say the cut is necessary when Republicans don't want to engage in conversations about raising taxes to balance the budget and save programs.

"Mr. President, I rise, unfortunately, to support this because I think it's the only way to go," said state Sen. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego).

The budget plan approved Wednesday spends $5 billion more than last year. The governor could cut even more.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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