Lawmakers have split views on special election

May 20, 2009 11:40:51 PM PDT
The message got through loud and clear to the California governor, who was visiting Washington on Tuesday. California voters are sending him back to the drawing board on the budget.

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Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is back in Sacramento and is already back at work trying to hammer out a deal to solve the state's latest budget crisis. It is a crisis deepened by the rejection of five budget propositions on a special statewide election ballot. Turnout was dismal, but the message was unmistakable.

"Well, we have seen loud and clear yesterday from the results, that an overwhelming majority of people told Sacramento, 'Go and do your work for yourself, don't come to us with your problems,'" said Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Lawmakers are saying the message is clear, but it is funny how they are interpreting what they heard very differently. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle met with the governor at a Big Five meeting late Wednesday afternoon. The leadership of the Assembly and Senate joined the governor. Republicans say voters don't want more taxes. Democrats heard voters say they don't want cuts to education, health and welfare.

On Wednesday morning the Senate President pro tem and the Speaker of the Assembly said they're willing to make cuts.

"We are going to cut. We are going to cut," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D).

The governor has proposed cuts in education, shortening the school year by a week and a half, cuts in health care for the children of low income families, and cuts in corrections -- allowing the early release of 19,000 undocumented inmates to the federal government.

The Democratic leadership is sure California voters don't want those cuts.

"They just don't want you to cut education, they don't want you to cut health, they don't want you to cut human services, they don't want you to cut corrections, and so it puts us in a difficult spot," said Speaker Bass.

Wednesday morning, Republicans leaders told reporters what they heard.

"Yesterday's vote was not about the budget, it was about a more serious condition, a loss of faith in the institutions of government," said Senate Minority Leader Senator Dennis Hollingsworth (R).

The GOP leadership unveiled a roadmap of reforms which include a public review of all bills before they're voted on and end to backroom deals and secret meetings -- like the one they had Wednesday afternoon with the governor. They also want to adopt performance-based budgeting, end automatic spending formulas, and mandate that 70 percent of education money be spent on teachers and supplies in the classrooms. Once again they proposed selling the L.A. Coliseum and San Quentin State Prison.

"Sell it off this year, lease it back as we build new prisons in this state," said Senator Jeff Denham (D) of Modesto.

"Number one, how long would that take?" said Assembly Speaker Bass.

Assembly Speaker Bass says there isn't enough time to sell off assets before the July budget deadline.

"The cuts get worse the longer we delay. A 15 percent cut in June almost doubles if you wait until September," said Senate President Senator Darrell Steinberg (D).

Senator Mark DeSaulnier of Contra Costa County is less critical of the GOP plan.

"If we can do more with less, then good," said Senator DeSaulnier.

But DeSaulnier is backing another long term fix, a Constitutional convention. This afternoon he stood with Bay Area business representative Jim Wunderman and others calling for a rewrite of the state's Constitution.

"It's been amended 500 times, more than any other state's constitution. It's time for a wholesale look and it is time for the California legislature to demonstrate its leadership by letting the voters lead us," said Senator DeSaulnier.

Around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the governor's meeting ended and ABC7's Mark Matthews asked Schwarzenegger's spokesman if the Big Five meetings are going to play a big role in these budget negotiations. The spokesman said meetings like the ones held on Wednesday are going to be held less often. More of it will be out in the public.

Asked if that was because of Tuesday's vote, which was characterized as an renunciation of backroom deals, and the spokesman told ABC7 to ask the lawmakers about that -- it was their idea.

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