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Gov. Pushes Lawmakers to Pass a State Budget

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday once again appealed to "the people" -- this time pressuring the California Legislature to pass a state budget and end what he said was "partisan warfare" at the state Capitol.

Inside a sweltering Chico mall near a Thomas Kinkade art gallery and an Orange Julius, Schwarzenegger implored the Legislature -- 90 miles south of this fruit-orchard and college town -- to "serve the people. Leave your partisan baggage at the door, and let's get the job done."

"We cannot afford to go back to the old ways of dealing with the budget, the summer slamfest in the Capitol, where the Democrats and the Republicans are fighting throughout the summer and nothing gets done," Schwarzenegger said before a crowd of about 3,000. "The summer slamfest has to stop. The partisan warfare has to stop, and the special interest giveaways have to stop."

Schwarzenegger then implored the crowd to write or call their lawmakers to pressure them to pass the state budget. The governor's remarks came after a Republican lawmaker who joined him onstage likened his Sacramento colleagues to children.

Democratic lawmakers who have been negotiating the budget with the governor were somewhat surprised by the exasperated rhetoric. They believed the governor and the Legislature have been working well together to come to a compromise.

"I think things have been kind of remarkable for the lack of partisanship," said Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland). "If we want to set a tone of bipartisanship and cooperation and making decisions based upon hard negotiations on the issues, we shouldn't ratchet up the rhetoric."

Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), a lead budget negotiator, said he thinks "things are going fine" and summed up the governor's statements by saying: "Politics. A speech is a speech. To me, we have a job to do and we're just going to keep doing it."

The format of the indoor event was borrowed from Schwarzenegger's October recall election and looked like a campaign rally, much like the shopping-mall and Costco rallies that Schwarzenegger used to push a $15-billion deficit-spending bond, government budget limits and workers' compensation reform.

This time, only Republican lawmakers shared the stage with Schwarzenegger. It was an implicit threat from the governor that he would be willing to use populist warfare to challenge the Legislature, which has missed its June 15 constitutional deadline to pass the $103-billion state budget. Lawmakers, however, expect final action before the fiscal year begins July 1.

Schwarzenegger took the stage to applause, cheers and an Elvis Presley song -- "A Little Less Conversation" -- and promptly told the crowd, "It's great to be here in Chino," a city in Southern California about 500 miles away. The crowd groaned, but some later said it was common to confuse the two towns. Schwarzenegger then joked that Chico was an American Indian word that meant, "Nothing else to do on a Thursday afternoon."

Assemblyman Rick Keene (R-Chico), a lead negotiator for Republicans on the budget, introduced Schwarzenegger by saying the governor had to get back to the Capitol quickly because, "We can't leave the children unattended very long."

No matter who is to blame, the governor still has a long way to go before he will have fulfilled all of his budget promises.

Schwarzenegger is calling on state workers to accept $465 million worth of cuts in pay and benefits. Roughly $300 million of that would come from rolling back a contract the prison guards reached with former Gov. Gray Davis that would give them an 11.5% raise this year.

The administration wants the Legislature to simply not approve the raises this year -- uncharted legal territory that would undercut the state's collective bargaining process and antagonize all labor unions. Democratic leaders are balking at the demand.

Some analysts believe Schwarzenegger can win on this unresolved issue.

"People who are going to close a deal with the governor are saying, 'no way' at the moment," said Robert Waste, a professor of public policy at Cal State Sacramento. "But look at his track record. The education community caved and dealt with him. Local governments caved and dealt with him. He's already picked off the biggest trees in the forest."

One issue where there seems to be no resolution in sight, however, is the governor's plan to borrow more than $900 million to cover the state's payment into the pension funds of government workers. But the plan would require significant cuts in pensions to government workers, and Democrats say they aren't going for that.

Public safety officials and city leaders from across California are urging lawmakers to pass Schwarzenegger's proposed $2.6-billion budget cut, which would trim funds for schools, parks, libraries, roads, emergency services and other resources over a two-year period. In exchange, the governor has agreed to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would lock up funding for these programs after the two year cut.

The governor also faces a battle with disability activists and healthcare workers, who object to cuts he has proposed to in-home services for about 350,000 Californians. Opponents say that if the aides' wages are slashed and they lose their benefits, many disabled people who work or go out daily will have to be institutionalized.

Perata vowed that he would not sign a budget that did not fully secure money to in-home health aides. "Nothing is more important to me than providing for the dignity and independence of persons with disabilities."

Lawmakers also have a lot of problems with the deal Schwarzenegger worked out with local officials. The cities and counties would agree to $1.3 billion in cuts for two years in return for support of a constitutional amendment that would protect their share of state revenue from ever being trimmed. Democrats warn the deal would lock into the Constitution a flawed tax system that would result in unintended consequences with major policy implications.

The Los Angeles Unified School District could suffer unrecoverable losses, according to district lawyer Michael Strumwasser. He said the budget would empty funds for school facilities and janitorial services. "The schools are going to lose and the public safety officers will benefit. I don't believe the governor and his people understood the full consequences of what they are proposing," Strumwasser said.

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