Big Five meet again over budget

July 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The top four lawmakers in Sacramento met with the governor to continue talks in order to close the state's $26 billion deficit.

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Top lawmakers met with the governor Friday evening and said they may now have a budget deal by the end of the weekend. They recognize they've said this before, but this time they promise they mean it.

State Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, was the most optimistic and is the one who thinks a budget deal will be made this Sunday that will be taken to the legislature next week.

That would be big news, since talks between these leaders broke down on Wednesday. Friday was the first day they've even met since then.

They're trying to figure out how to close a $26 billion deficit. After the night's three-hour-long meeting, everyone emerged feeling better about the negotiations.

"There is not yet an agreement, a final deal, but I'll go a tiny bit farther to say expect by Sunday night we are likely to have an agreement. There we go," said Steinberg.

"It was a good meeting headed in right direction. You know, we've had good meetings followed by bad meetings, so I don't want to overplay this. We're certainly in a position where we could close this very quickly," said the governor's spokesperson Aaron McLear.

Figuring out how to pay back public schools for all of the education cuts still hasn't been resolved. Speaker Karen Bass is reluctant to say today is the day the budget stalemate ends.

In his continuing efforts to pare down state government during one of California's worst budget crisis, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-California, ordered all state agencies to reduce their vehicle fleet by 15 percent and to sell the surplus cars at the government garage sale next month.

It's the Governor's latest move in dealing with declining revenues that has already forced him to close most state offices for three Fridays a month, make state workers stay home unpaid, and pay bills with IOUs.

Meanwhile, a stalled budget fix is making Pa Lor anxious. The young mother just signed up for state-funded health care for her kids, but Healthy Families stopped taking new enrollees on Friday because of the budget crisis.

"What do we do if my kids get sick? How am I going to take them to the doctor? I don't have enough money to cover their healthcare," says Lor.

For the first time since its inception, Healthy Families has to turn away kids. It's estimated nearly a 1,000 uninsured kids a day will lose access to healthcare.

There's anxiety, too, here at this gathering of city and county leaders. They are furious at word Sacramento is going to take or borrow as much as $5 billion, not $2 billion, in property tax money, redevelopment funds and gas-tax money. It's money local governments were desperately counting on.

"It's $8 million in redevelopment funds that we were counting on to pay back funds to improve Downtown Oakland to attract retail shopping," says Oakland City Councilwoman Jean Quan.

Lawmakers were supposed to begin their month-long summer recess on Friday, but that has now been postponed.

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