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Dems make demands in state budget crisis

Smyth's answer: protesters trying to score political points

Posted: June 25, 2009 9:12 p.m.
Updated: June 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Erika Derry, mother of Cade, 9, and Owen, 7, shared how cuts in schools would hurt her sons during a campaign for a fair budget outside Assemblyman Cameron Smyth's office in Valencia on Thursday morning.

As state lawmakers in Sacramento struggled Thursday to solve a $24 billion budget gap, a group of sign-toting protesters chastised local Assemblyman Cameron Smyth and other Republicans for demanding deep cuts to services rather than tax hikes.

More than a dozen people gathered outside Smyth's office in Valencia with signs attempting to shame the politician. At one point, they chanted, "Health care, not wealth care!"

Democratic activist Carole Lutness, who ran unsuccessfully against Smyth for the Assembly seat in the 2008 election, led the rally.

She introduced a cadre of citizens, from parents and teachers' union officials to advocates for the disabled and elderly, who pleaded for Smyth and his colleagues to leave critical services intact.

"These people have nothing," said Barbara Wilson, mother of someone with a mental-health disorder. "You're cutting off their ability to survive."

Lutness waved a sheet of paper, declaring she had single-handedly solved the budget crisis using a calculator on a newspaper Web site.

"I was able to balance the budget," Lutness said. "I would like Cameron Smyth to take the test and tell me how he balanced the budget."

During a break from the Assembly floor Thursday afternoon, Smyth retorted: "I don't need to get onto (a Web) site to draft a plan. I'm up here voting and doing it for real."

Lutness' plan called for more than $19 billion in tax hikes primarily targeting the wealthy and corporations, and raising taxes on gas, alcohol and cigarettes.

Smyth said it wasn't realistic.

"Tough decisions are going to have to be made - decisions that nobody wants to have to make," Smyth said. "And while the unions and Democrats are outside my office trying to score cheap political points, I'm here at the Capitol working with Republican and Democratic colleagues to try and solve this crisis."

Lawmakers on Thursday began taking steps to avoid having the state issue IOUs instead of paying its bills, even as the state's financial picture darkened and hopes for a quick budget resolution receded.

A main bond-rating agency downgraded the state's credit worthiness after lawmakers failed to reach agreement on a plan to close a projected $24.3 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year. The downgrade will make borrowing more expensive.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers remained at odds over how to solve the state's fiscal crisis, less than a week before the beginning of the new fiscal year. The state controller warned a day earlier that he would have to start issuing IOUs to thousands of state contractors by July 2 if a budget deal isn't in place soon.

The thrust of the bills is to cut and delay about $5 billion in education payments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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