SAN FRANCISCO - After failing to obtain a deal to salvage California's teetering budget in a November special session, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying again, calling into special session the new state Legislature that was sworn in yesterday.
Though the new Legislature officially takes office Dec. 1, typically it does not begin meeting in earnest until January.
That needs to be different this year, according to the governor, because of the ongoing economic crisis that has punched an $11 billion hole in the state's current budget.
"Without immediate action our state is headed for a fiscal disaster, and everyone will be hurt," Schwarzenegger said at a Los Angeles press conference yesterday. "We are on track to run out of cash by the end of February or the beginning of March."
The governor yesterday declared a fiscal emergency, which gives lawmakers 45 days to adopt legislation addressing the budget crisis. If the 45 days pass without such legislation, lawmakers are prohibited from adjourning the session or acting on other bills until the fiscal emergency is addressed.
Schwarzenegger called the outgoing lame-duck Legislature into a special session last month, saying the state's budget picture had worsened by more than $11 billion since the budget was signed in September. He proposed a mix of tax increases and budget cuts to close it.
The tax-and-cut proposal foundered in the days before Thanksgiving along well-established party lines, in which Democrats resist cuts and Republicans resist tax increases.
"Unfortunately for California, the legislators did not seem to appreciate the severity of the crisis," Schwarzenegger said yesterday.
While Democrats have sizable majorities in each chamber, tax increases and the budget must be approved by two-thirds majorities, giving the minority Republicans leverage.
In November, Democrats gained a net of three seats in the Assembly, for a 51-to-29 majority - meaning at least three GOP votes are needed for tax bills.
The Senate's composition didn't change, remaining 25 to 15 for the Democrats, though they are already a man short as Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas resigned his seat to take a new position on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
That means that they are three seats short of the two-thirds mark until a special election is held next year to fill Ridley-Thomas's seat, which is all but certain to go to a Democrat.
Though the Legislature's partisan composition changed only slightly, there has been significant turnover in memberships, because of the state's term-limits law.
Of 120 lawmakers, 39 are new to their position, though 14 of that number have previous legislative experience, and switched from Assembly to Senate or vice versa.
Three of the four top legislative leaders remain the same, and the new Senate president pro tem, Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, participated in November's budget negotiations with the outgoing president pro tem, Don Perata, D-Oakland.