Budget deadline looms: no support for taxes or suspension of Prop 98

Since January, Gov. Jerry Brown has warned the public school system faces billions of dollars next year in cuts if tax extensions are not approved.

An informal survey of lawmakers last week, however, found that even though there are no Republican votes for extending the taxes - there's no support either for suspending Proposition 98 and imposing those threatened massive cuts.

Assembly Republicans stand strong and we will fight any attempt to suspend Prop 98," said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway from Visalia, referencing the need for a two-thirds majority requirement to suspend the voter-approved funding guarantee.

"We think it's a basic tenet and very important to taxpayers," she said during a Sacramento Press Club luncheon last week.

That sentiment has been echoed by both Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton, R-Inland Empire, and Democratic Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.

The position of GOP lawmakers would seem to provide good news to schools regardless of the outcome expected later this week as the state approaches the end of the fiscal year Thursday.

Without two Republican votes in the Assembly and the Senate, Democrats would be likely forced to apply cuts to other areas of the budget to close the estimated $10 billion gap.

Indeed, according to an Assembly staffer, the Speaker's office is currently crafting a no-tax budget that does not suspend Proposition 98.

In the upper house, Senate majority leader Darrell Steinberg has not ruled out deeper cuts to schools, but is well aware that suspending Proposition 98 is impossible without supermajority approval.

"I think it (suspension) is something that obviously has to be part of the consideration - but again, if you can't get two thirds majority to do that, then it's out of play," said Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for Sen. Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Still, the politics of the state budget can change quickly.

The governor is still trying to win four Republican votes to extend taxes on sales and vehicles in advance of putting the question on the ballot in a fall election.

Republicans have refused so far, arguing that Brown and Democrats are beholden to state employee unions that shut down GOP-supported ballot measures for pension reform and state spending limits.

Now the governor is suggesting gathering signatures to put the taxes on next year's ballot.

As for the 2011-12 budget deal, Brown said last week he was prepared to let the impasse push on for several more weeks before seeking deeper cuts. But the administration hasn't articulated where they would come from.

Democrats are reluctant to reduce spending on health and human services because more cuts could mean the loss of federal funds. The majority party also believes those services have already been cut "down to the bone," said Hedlund.

As for prisons, the Supreme Court has ordered California to reduce its inmate population by tens of thousands over the next two years. But the only proposal that would accomplish that is the governors' plan to send the prisoners to local jails and pay for the transfer with new tax revenues - Republicans call that a nonstarter.

That leaves public education as the final major slice of the budget pie. The fact that legislators are swearing off more cuts to schools makes the road to a final deal very complicated.

"There's a lot of work going on to try and craft something that everyone can live with," said Hedlund. "That's our goal. We're keeping laser focus on it."

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