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Officials ready for budget’s ‘Round 2’

Local voices give mixed reviews of tentative spending plan

Posted: June 16, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 16, 2011 1:55 a.m.

The state Legislature on Wednesday passed a Democratic budget for the coming fiscal year that eliminates the state’s remaining $9.6 billion deficit, but the plan was derided as a sham by Republicans and widely seen as a mere placeholder that will allow lawmakers to continue getting their paychecks as negotiations continue.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, said he voted against many of the budget bills passed Wednesday, including the vehicle license-fee-increase measure, since he believes voters should be able to weigh in on other government reforms.

“We have an opportunity to change the way we budget in California, and the voters should have a say in that,” he said.
Smyth also opposed a bill that would reform local redevelopment agencies, saying the measure focuses more on taking the agencies’ money than on reform.

Wednesday’s budget approval also comes as school districts across the Santa Clarita Valley prepare to adopt budgets in time for the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

The budget, which still needs the approval of Gov. Jerry Brown, appears to include some good news for public education because it doesn’t call for any new cuts to funding.

“Our budget is set, and that’s because we had a pretty good idea of where it was going to go,” Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger said Wednesday.

The budget approval gives school districts like Newhall a basic idea of how they will be funded this year, especially since the Legislature has waited until the fall to adopt budgets in previous years.

Winger remains hesitant because talks continue that Brown is still negotiating with Republicans to keep tax extensions in place.

“There’s probably still behind the scenes stuff going on,” he said.

Among the concerns of the state budget is the state’s deferral of a $2 billion payment to school districts across the state, Winger said.

Brown had proposed budget language that would have released that money to schools rather than delaying payments. But without any new funding sources, the deferrals remain in effect.

If lawmakers had missed the constitutional June 15 deadline for sending a balanced budget to the governor, they would have forfeited $261 a day in salary and $142 in payments for daily expenses under a voter initiative passed last year.

Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp reserved his comments on the budget until he knew more about what the budget bills mean.

“It sounds to me like the end of Round 1, and the beginning of Round 2,” Pulskamp said. Brown now has 12 days to decide what to do with the bills, and there could be “substantive changes” between now and then, Pulskamp said.

Republican lawmakers said the Democratic proposal was thrown together and was not intended to stand.

“I wish that we had a chance to vote on a real budget today,” said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks. “Instead, we’re going to vote on what is effectively the legislative paycheck-protection plan.”

Democratic leaders acknowledged that the plan was not the budget they and Brown really want.

That hoped-for budget — which some Democratic lawmakers refer to as “Plan A” — includes a temporary extension of expiring tax increases to fund schools in the coming fiscal year and an authorization for a special election this fall so voters can decide whether to extend the tax hikes for an even longer period.

The last of the tax hikes passed in 2009 — increases to the sales and vehicle taxes — expire June 30, giving Democrats two weeks to convince four Republicans to keep the higher taxes in place until voters have their say. An increase in the personal income tax rate passed at the same time expired in January.

“I would love nothing more than to come back sometime between June 15 and July 1 and pass Plan A,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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