SACRAMENTO — The relief of finally closing a $26.3 billion budget deal was a short-lived respite for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and four legislative leaders, who now must face the headache of persuading lawmakers to pass it.
With two days before the deal goes before the full Legislature — as staffs are working overtime in drafting the complex and sweeping language — lawmakers are beginning to feel the full weight of pressure from a spectrum of interest groups with an array of misgivings and grievances.
Environmental groups, law enforcement, schools, welfare and health advocates and local governments are "twisting arms" to try to squeeze changes out of the deal, said Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio, a former deputy chief of staff to ex-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.
"Everybody affected comes out of the woodwork, and everybody's ox is gored in this budget," Maviglio said. "The sales job of leadership will be in convincing members that this is the best deal they can get, and if they take one piece out of the puzzle, the whole thing collapses."
Interest groups know where the pressure points are. For example, corrections officials, angered over $1.2 billion cuts to the corrections budget, are reportedly threatening members from closely contested districts that they could be targeted in campaigns for supporting the potential release of thousands of prison inmates — though Senate President Pro Tem Darrell
To drive home the delicate nature of things, Assembly Republican Leader Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said late Tuesday the whole budget deal could be scuttled if Democrats try to push through an early-release plan, saying it was not a part of the agreement. To avoid a blowup, Democrats may have to settle the corrections cuts when the Legislature returns from summer recess in August.
"For any member of the state Legislature of either party, this is going to be the most miserable week of their life," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.
Another equal-opportunity source of pressure — on both Democrats and Republicans — is coming from local governments. The California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities are threatening to sue the state over $4 billion it's taking from local redevelopment money, transportation funds and real-estate taxes, and have been applying a full-court press on lawmakers for weeks.
"They don't want to cut spending, and they don't want to raise taxes," said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities. "They find it's easier to steal the money."
The California Federation of Teachers is urging legislators to vote down the budget, appealing more to their conscience than applying muscle. Lawmakers received letters from the CFT demanding that they vote against $6 billion in cuts to public schools and community colleges.
"I can't say if the Legislature has the backbone to stand up and say this is wrong," said Marty Hittelman, president of the CFT. "We wouldn't threaten lawmakers with campaign money, but we have lost faith in the Legislature, and we're putting most of our resources into initiatives."
Under the heading of "Budget Action Alert: There is Still Time!" the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California sent out a mailer telling members to urge Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, to back down from $875 million in cuts to welfare programs such as the state's welfare-to-work CalWorks, In Home Supportive Services and the children's insurance program Healthy Families.
"Please take a few minutes to make calls today to ask Legislative leaders to stand strong for California's families!" the bulletin said.
For some, pressure won't be required. Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, has already committed to voting against the school cuts. It would be a second act of defiance against Bass, who stripped him of his chairmanship of the labor committee last spring after he voted against a budget bill.
"I'll work out in the hallway in a trash can to avoid compromising on that issue," Swanson said, when asked if he fears further retaliation if he goes against his leaders' demands.
One question is whether Democrats will shoulder most of the burden to vote for a budget deal that they have more reason to oppose than Republicans.
Republicans extracted major cuts — $15.5 billion worth, on top of $16 billion in cuts in February — while avoiding new tax hikes and adding reforms that will force many thousands of recipients off welfare rolls. Yet, they are unlikely to vote in big numbers for the budget bill, in part because it includes nearly $10 billion in funding shifts and accounting gimmicks.
"I'd expect it would be more of a problem with Democrats because this is what Republicans wanted," said Tony Quinn, a former GOP legislative staffer who now coedits the California Target Book, a publication that tracks legislative races. "But that doesn't mean Republicans won't find reasons to vote against it."
For most components of what will be a 28-bill package, Steinberg said he does not expect to have to exert the same kind of teeth-pulling effort he did to gain Republican support for taxes in February.
"This was a five-corner agreement, with the governor and four leaders, unlike last time (in February), which involved taxes," Steinberg said. "Local government, that's not a partisan issue. We all feel the pain of that decision, so it can't be anything close to a 25-2 vote. That's where responsibility needs to be shared."
Reach Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101.