Saturday, August 9, 2008

Republican leader: Democrats stalling on budget

SACRAMENTO — Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines on Thursday accused Democrats of stalling budget negotiations so they can avoid having to agree on a spending cap as part of reforms Republicans are seeking.

If the Legislature fails by midnight Aug. 16th to approve budget reform legislation — which would have to be done by a constitutional amendment — it would fail to make it onto the November ballot.

"I think they're trying to wait out the deadline to put anything on the ballot," said Villines, a Fresno Republican. "I believe this has been going on for a while. They're serious about it and they're showing it. They won't even bring up their own budget. I think you'll see them try to move the budget right after the deadline.

"Once that happens, if that's their game," he added, "we will be in the longest budget (standoff) we've ever had."

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, denied Democrats were stalling, saying she's hoping to come up with a budget agreement that would include creating a rainy-day fund and placing a measure to refinance the Lottery on the ballot. But she did say Democrats are opposed to a spending cap.

"If you have a very rigid spending cap when times are good, we can't repair the damage done when times were bad and when you cut these programs," Bass said. "One of the fundamental problems we have with budgets now are all the formulas in place that tie our hands. I'm concerned about Advertisementany formula that's going to be an additional way our hands are tied."

Villines this week introduced a measure, ACA 19, which would authorize the governor to impose cuts on services during down economic years and place a spending cap in high revenue years — with some excess revenues diverted into a rainy-day fund and others rebated back to taxpayers.

The frustration about stalled negotiations — 39 days past the deadline to approve the budget — spilled onto the Assembly floor when Republicans challenged Democrats to put up their budget bill for a vote.

Democrats refused, saying Republicans merely wanted to go through a "drill" so they could hammer away at the Democrats' plan to raise $9 billion through taxes on the wealthy.

Villines said he had been "trying to keep a good tone on the floor, but that day is gone." Negotiations, he said, are failing. The two Assembly leaders haven't met in four days, while the Big Four — all four legislative leaders — haven't met as a group in more than two weeks. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, displaying his frustration a day earlier, declared he wouldn't sign any more legislation until the budget is done.

"There are no real negotiations," Villines said. "Negotiations aren't happening any more, and we have the arrogance of the majority who sits back and says, 'well, you know what, we'll just pressure this and let this happen.' So, state workers aren't getting paid. Nobody else will get anything, where pretty soon, the crisis of borrowing all the money is going to happen."

By waiting out Republicans and helping to create a crisis environment, Villines said, Democrats are hoping to force Republicans into supporting taxes.

"I'm convinced Democrats do not want compromise and are just in a waiting game," he said. "That's what I think is happening. If that's the case, everybody has to dig in and that's not what's best for California."

Democrats said that Villines sent negotiations reeling by introducing his constitutional amendment, ACA 19, which one lawmaker, Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said is an "attempt to do what their leader (Washington, D.C.) activist Grover Norquist promised: shrink government to the size it can be drowned in the bathtub."

"It's put up or shut up time for Republicans," Evans said. "The Democratic budget proposal has been on the table for over a month. ... It is in writing for all to see.

"Unfortunately for California, Republicans not only refuse to support our proposal, they refuse to tell us what kind of budget they would support."

Bass said the last time she asked Villines to meet with her, he refused. Though she called the GOP outburst a "step back," Bass said her door is still open to Republicans.

"I'm absolutely willing to continue negotiations," she said. "I'm going to continue trying."

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