State lawmakers say they're on track


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Budget leaders from the Assembly and state Senate went into a joint committee meeting Monday with a goal of un-doing deep cuts proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California and they expect to be done Tuesday night.

"We do intend by the end of this process to have closed the $19.5 billion deficit that we are facing now and have a healthy reserve set aside," says Assembly member Noreen Evans (D) of Santa Rosa.

For example, they restored funding to Healthy Families programs, AIDS drug assistance, and funding for state parks by creating a vehicle license fee. They also rejected borrowing $2 billion in property taxes from local government.

To make up the difference, Democrats are talking about raising the tobacco tax and adding an oil severance tax. Republicans say they'll oppose those ideas.

"California families are hurting, the economy's hurting, jobs are hurting. The last thing we need to do is add more taxes on top of those really hurting folks," says Assembly member Sam Blakeslee (R) of San Luis Obispo.

While lawmakers say they're focused on consensus building, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D) lashed out at the governor on the Tavis Smiley Show on PBS.

"We will not eliminate programs. We will not cut education to the extent that the governor is proposing. And so that is where my line is drawn," says Bass.

Lawmakers appeared upbeat on a town hall webcast Monday evening that the process is moving along smoothly.

"We will then be on the floor of the Senate and I expect the Assembly will be on their floor as well next week, and we will get this done well before June the 30th," says Senator Darrell Steinberg (D), the state Senate president.

The governor still wants a $4.5 billion surplus to come out of this budget process, but that may not happen as lawmakers ease cuts made to a number of programs.

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