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Transition of Power: New Year, Not-So-New Budget Problem

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Marianne: Every year it seems California's budget problems can't get any worse … but then they do. The deficit could be as large as 28 billion dollars over the next year and a half, and that overshadows everything. So, what's a legislative leader to do?  I'm Marianne Russ, and I'm here with Ida Lieszkovszky, who talked with several of them about the challenges ahead.

So, Ida, what did you find?

Ida: Despite the massive budget deficit, and in keeping with his personality, Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg is definitely the most optimistic of the bunch.

Steinberg: 24 "It's a fresh start and when you look at the landscape we have a new Democratic governor and a governor I think with a lot of depth, we have proposition 25 which allows the majority to pass a budget, and we have a 25 to 27 billion dollar deficit. I guess you might say that two our of three ain't bad."

Marianne: The voters have definitely changed the budget landscape. Steinberg mentioned the fact that a budget only requires a majority vote, so where does that leave republicans?

Ida: new Republican Assembly Leader Connie Conway sounds a little bit nervous about losing clout in budget talks between the leaders and the governor, often known as the "Big Five."

Conway: "I jokingly told someone the other day there's no more big 5, there's the big 3 and the little 2 but of course we want to remain in the conversation and bring our ideas forward."

Marianne:          It's important to point out that voters also approved measures that make it harder to pass fees and prevent borrowing from local governments.

Ida:  And Steinberg told me that in order to avoid really devastating cuts to education and human services, Democrats are going to need the Republicans.

Marianne: speaking of republicans, they've long been advocates of something known as zero-based budgeting, where agencies start from scratch and have to justify the money they get.  Interestingly enough that's an idea that Governor-elect Jerry brown raised on the campaign trail.

Ida: Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton told me although he usually disagrees with Democratic budget solutions, this time he's on board.

Dutton: "You need to start at zero and you need to figure out exactly what it is you need but also why. Tell us what the assumptions that you're using to justify the amount of money you're requesting, and I agree with him 100%, I can back that."

Ida: Governor-elect Brown has held a couple of town-hall style meetings about the budget. Marianne, you covered those. Did Brown give you a sense of what to expect?

Marianne: well, Ida, brown is known for being a penny-pincher, and in both of the budget forums he held, he warned that his budget proposal would be tough to swallow.

Brown: Please sit down when you read the stories on the budget on January 10th, don't stand up but just sit down. If you're in a car fasten your seat belt because it's going to be a rough ride, but we'll get through it.

Ida: Brown will have a busy couple of weeks; he'll also be sworn into office give a state of the state address.


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