SACRAMENTO -- Democrats embraced each other with wide grins after wrapping up the main budget bill with nearly $14 billion in spending reductions, fund shifts and loans Thursday, but it may have been more out of relief than exultation.
Democrats had just gone ahead with what their own members described as Draconian cuts that will have painful outcomes for the poor, elderly and children, among many others. And prospects for a deal with Republicans to have a special election in early June on tax extensions to close the rest of a $26.6 billion deficit appeared grim after a day of partisan recriminations.
The Senate and Assembly both approved the budget bill on party-line majority votes -- 25-15 in the Senate and 52-26 in the Assembly -- invoking Proposition 25 for the first time since voters approved it last fall. Prop. 25 ended the previous requirement that budget bills receive a two-thirds majority to pass.
But heavy lifting remains for the Legislature, with Democrats still short of the two-thirds vote required to eliminate the state's 425 redevelopment agencies, a budget-balancing move that is needed because the agencies operate on local property tax dollars. And they will have to overcome a wide chasm with Republicans in talks over placing tax extensions on the ballot.
"We'll see where conversations go," said Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "I hope to use the next couple days to intensify discussions-slash-negotiations with
Tension over Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax extensions lingered over almost every move Democrats made over the two-day period of voting, though legislative leaders were not close to an agreement on the taxes.
Brown has proposed that, in addition to spending reductions, the deficit be closed by extending by another five years the 2009 tax increases for purchases, income and vehicles. A recent Field Poll showed voters support extending taxes.
With the state Republican party convention starting Friday, Republicans appeared determined to avoid any vote that could stoke the emotions of the party's delegates, who began arriving in Sacramento for the weekend. Republicans derided the budget votes, calling them a "drill" to pressure Republicans to put tax increases on the ballot.
"I say to my wife, who's watching, 'honey, this just won't do it, and I can't support it,' " said Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga.
One of the so-called GOP 5, Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, who have been in talks with Brown, suggested that if Democrats are not ready to accept significant rollbacks in pension benefits, regulations and spending limits, they should go ahead with a "one-party solution" and approve the tax extensions on a majority vote, which the Legislative Counsel has said can be done because the taxes are under an existing statute.
He said he was ready to "make the hard decisions that could end our careers" by voting for a tax extension, but "not to provide a fig leaf of political cover."
Steinberg reminded Republicans, in what he said was "not in an arrogant manner or boastful fashion," that Brown won, as did all Democratic candidates for statewide office, and that Democrats hold wide majorities in both legislative chambers.
"As we go forward ... in the difficult days ahead, I hope we can agree on proportionality," Steinberg said. "I would urge you to recognize that, in order to get this done ... that you acknowledge that elections matter. As we talk about pensions, as we talk about spending restraints, as we talk about regulatory reforms, that your demands and your asks be proportional to your representation in this body and in California."
But even on the budget that contained the kinds of spending discipline that Republicans have sought for years, Republicans complained that none of their ideas were adopted and refused to vote for the budget, essentially forcing Democrats to own it.
It reflected Democrats' "vision and priorities built upon 30 to 40 years of Democratic policies where we have come to the edge, come to the brink and had to pare back," said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the Senate Republicans' point person on the budget.
The budget, Huff said, is built on "phony cuts" and a "$14 billion tax increase hole," and with no rollbacks to pension benefits, regulations and spending curbs, is an "inadequate package."
Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, slammed Huff for his comments, saying, "no way does it reflect my priorities except for one reason. Because it seeks to close the $26.6 billion deficit."
Republicans' refusal so far to allow a vote on tax extensions is "stunning," said Sen. Kevin DeLeon, D-Los Angeles. "My greatest fear is this is only the beginning. Let's not fool ourselves about the severity of the Draconian cuts."
The budget is 18 percent smaller than three years ago and 24 percent smaller than five years ago, said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the budget chairman.
"It is a serious attempt to right the ship of state," he said.