SACRAMENTO -- With Friday's constitutional deadline looming, Democrats sent their main budget bill to both floors of the Legislature on Thursday, setting up a showdown with Gov. Jerry Brown over how deep cuts will be made to programs serving California's neediest.
Democrats are largely in agreement with Brown's $91.4 billion spending plan, but a difference of about $300 million in proposed cuts separates the two as they seek to close a $15.7 billion gap between revenues and spending.
"We're coming very, very close," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "It remains a very small differential."
Legislators, set to take up the budget in both the Senate and the Assembly at 11 a.m., would start losing their pay if they don't approve a balanced budget by midnight Friday. But the likelihood of getting their paychecks docked is low: Under an initiative passed by California voters two years ago, lawmakers only need to send the governor what they deem to be a balanced document.
And though they will be voting on the main budget bill, lawmakers are holding back a number of so-called trailer bills containing the most contentious differences, including cuts in the state's welfare-to-work program, Cal Grants for college students and child care.
Legislators expect to continue to negotiate with Brown over the next week or so. Brown has 12 days to decide whether he will veto the whole budget, veto
"Discussions are ongoing," said Gil Duran, Brown's spokesman.
Working beyond the June 15 deadline is, some say, in violation of the spirit of Proposition 25, which gave Democrats a majority vote on budgets but also targets legislators' pay if they miss the deadline.
"If it's a budget matter, it needs to be passed on time," said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State. "If they're saying, 'We'll get to the rest of that later,' they have not met the intent of the law. The whole thing's a sham."
Democrats say the incentive to get things done on time is not to continue getting their paychecks but to fulfill the promise to voters to meet the deadline.
"The reason why budgets have been late for so many years is the old leverage game with Republicans, most of whom signed pledges saying they wouldn't even talk about (increasing) revenues," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "Now that that impediment is gone ... the public expects us to get it done on time."
Republicans, who've been shut out of budget negotiations, boycotted the Senate Budget Committee on Thursday after complaining that Democrats hadn't made budget documents available 48 hours before Friday.
Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, called on state Controller John Chiang and Treasurer Bill Lockyer to determine whether the budget is truly balanced.
"These 'take it or leave it' budgets have been unbalanced, built on gimmicks, and are neither transparent nor honest," Fuller said. "Therefore, it is crucial that the top two fiscal officers of our state review and express an opinion about whether or not this budget is balanced."
Legislative Democrats are calling for $8 billion in cuts -- just short of the governor's $8.3 billion. Both are assuming $5.9 billion in hoped-for revenues from the governor's tax proposal that will be voted on in November, and $2.3 billion more in fund shifts and internal borrowing. Legislators want a budget reserve of $544 million, just more than half of the $1 billion reserve the governor proposed. The governor wants $8.3 billion in cuts.
Democratic legislators and the Democratic governor remain divided over welfare-to-work rules. Democrats want to continue a policy started two years ago that suspends work requirements for welfare recipients. That takes pressure off the system of having to provide child care, transportation and job training, saving $428 million.
Brown wants to place a two-year limit -- rather than four years -- on parents before they'd have to find work and lose their assistance, an $880 million savings to CalWORKs.
"We don't want to impose tighter rules that force people who are on the verge of self-sufficiency and who are also on the edge of homelessness to be cut off like that," Steinberg said.
Already some of the solutions that Democrats relied on appear to be on shaky ground. Democrats had hoped to show $250 million in savings by taking tax dollars from shutdown redevelopment agencies that otherwise would go to counties, school districts or special districts. But counties objected loudly, and the administration pointed out that the money was obligated to projects already in the works.
"We're opposed to redirecting the money away from counties, special districts and schools," said Michael Cohen, a state Department of Finance official. "It's very important that counties can rely on the revenues they've relied on for years."
Leno said talks continue on that front and that they're looking for other sources to find $250 million.