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Leaders look for way out of budget crisis

Posted: May 20, 2009 7:33 p.m.
Updated: May 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.

With five of the six state budget propositions crashing and burning, politicians called for desperate measures Wednesday as they sought ways to fix California’s busted budget.  

Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E failed at the polls during the special election held Tuesday. Proposition 1F, which put a cap on state legislators’ raises during a budget crisis, was the only ballot initiative to pass.

A special session between the state Legislature and the governor should be called within the next few days to brainstorm ways to fix the budget crisis — at least for this fiscal year, said Cameron Smyth, state assemblyman, R-Santa Clarita. “We’re going to look at this year’s budget and see where we can make changes,” he said.

Those changes could be drastic.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed borrowing up to $2 billion from the state’s cities and counties.

“I don’t think we should take money from local government,” said state Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster. “That’s just borrowing. We need to pay that money back.”

Indeed, state law would require that the borrowed money be repaid within three years - with interest.

Schwarzenegger also said California might put San Quentin State Prison and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum up for sale to help close the budget gap. In addition, inmates might be released early from prison to relieve overcrowding and save money.

Runner might not want the state to borrow tax dollars from cities and counties, but he is willing to part with San Quentin State Prison and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“If California has surplus property that has value from being sold, we should sell it,” he said.

The question of whether to part with iconic buildings like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is a no-brainer considering the economy, Runner said. “There are a lot of families that are making tough decisions, and that’s what the state has to do — make tough decisions,” he said.   

Smyth doesn’t think any of Schwarzenegger’s proposed ideas to save the state are out of line. “Because of the crisis we’re in, all options need to be on the table,” he said.

With the state’s budget in a shambles, Los Angeles County Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich implored the state legislature and the governor to meet soon and start fixing the problem. “With a multibillion-dollar deficit and lower bond ratings, it is imperative that this be done within 60 days,” he said.    

Antonovich laid out a plan to fix the state’s ailing budget, which includes a two-year budget and part-time legislators.

Smyth said a two-year budget has merit.

“Local government relies heavily on state agencies to plan. As a planning tool for local government, a two-year state budget helps,” he said.

Smyth didn’t dismiss Antonovich’s suggestion of part-time legislators, but he hesitated to fully endorse the idea.  

“I think that’s worth a discussion,” he said. “That’s a reform worth looking at.”

Runner said instead of part-time legislators, he thinks elected state officials should spend less time in Sacramento. “The time in Sacramento should be limited to two or three months. Legislators should spend more time in the real world and less time in the bubble of Sacramento,” he said.



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