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California May Have Seen Its Last Late Budget

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Late budgets will be a thing of the past, a key California lawmaker promised Wednesday, a day after the state's voters approved a measure that allows spending plans to pass the Legislature with a majority vote instead of two-thirds.

"Certainly there is no reason for a late budget again with the passage of Proposition 25," the Senate's president pro tem, Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said at a press conference Wednesday.

Getting the budget balanced, however, might be even harder than it was before, after voters passed two other measures that take money from the general fund.

California has a history of late budgets. It set a new record for tardiness this year when lawmakers approved the budget 100 days after the fiscal year started.

Proposition 25 allows a state budget to pass with a majority vote in each house of the Legislature, though it does not change the two-thirds supermajority requirement to increase taxes. Meanwhile, Proposition 26, which also passed, clouds the process by requiring two-thirds supermajorities to adopt fees that previously required a majority.

Voters also approved Proposition 22, which limits the state's ability to shift funds from local governments and agencies.

"Voters gave with one hand and took with the other with Prop. 26 and Prop. 22," Steinberg said.

Regardless, Steinberg said, the majority party's new ability to pass budgets on a majority vote will bring an end to budget delays.

"It is such a symbol of the dysfunction here in Sacramento, and it is incumbent upon us to get it done in time," he said.

The Legislature's cast of characters hasn't changed dramatically. Several members were forced out by term limits, but despite the national GOP wave, only one California seat changed parties, and that open Sacramento-area Assembly seat flipped to Democratic control from Republican, giving Democrats a 52-28 edge there. They have a 24-15 advantage in the Senate, with one open seat.

There will be a new governor — or perhaps it's better to say a different governor, since Jerry Brown, 72, is returning to the statehouse from a 28-year absence after serving two terms from 1975 to 1983.

He's the second Californian to win three terms as governor. Barring an unexpected comeback from the 82-year-old George Deukmejian, he'll also be the last, thanks to term-limit rules that took effect after his first statehouse stint.

With the departure of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, Democrats control the governor's office and the Legislature. The same was true during Brown's first go-round in Sacramento, but that didn't mean Brown had a good relationship with lawmakers. His vetoes, for example, were overridden a dozen times, something that has never happened since.

Brown has changed over the years, according to Sacramento veteran Barbara O'Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. Brown appointed her to chair the California Public Broadcasting Commission in the 1970s.

"It is a different Jerry Brown, and I don't think people recognize that yet," she said.

Brown has promised intensive collaborative discussions with the entire Legislature over the budget, starting Thursday.

At his news conference Wednesday, Brown restated the principals he announced during his campaign — saying he's not going to easily agree to new taxes.

"He's going to be the one saying, 'No, you can't do that,' " O'Connor said.

"We have to make tough choices, we have to live within our means, we have to move as much government and responsibility as we can to the local level," Brown said Wednesday. "No taxes unless the people make it clear what they want and they make it clear in an actual vote of the electorate."

California's budget problems got worse Tuesday. Proposition 22 and Proposition 26 each have an immediate impact on the general fund.

Moody's Investors Service already projected that the state would face a $12 billion structural deficit in its next budget cycle.

According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, Proposition 22, the measure that prohibits the state from shifting funds away from local governments, prohibits the state's current practice of using transportation funds to pay debt service for transportation-related general obligation bonds. That will cost the general fund about $1 billion a year.

The proposition also bars the state from repeating its recent fund shift that cost redevelopment agencies $2 billion to help balance the 2010 general fund budget.

Proposition 26, in addition to making it harder to raise revenue through fee increases, will also affect an accounting maneuver the Legislature approved in 2010, swapping the sales tax on gasoline for an excise tax. The overall effect was revenue neutral, but it saved the general fund $1 billion a year, according to the LAO, which will now be lost unless lawmakers approve it by a two-thirds margin.

Brown has to deliver his first budget proposal within two weeks of his Jan. 3 inauguration.



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