California budget talks continue: A deal at last?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California’s top lawmakers are set to resume talks Monday with the hope of hammering out the final details on a deal to close the state’s $26.3 billion budget deficit after canceling talks scheduled for Sunday evening due to a scheduling snafu with Assembly Leader Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles).

The leaders, who last met on Friday, have said for days that they are near agreement on a package to eliminate California’s $26.3-billion deficit.  Legislative leaders said they made “huge progress” Friday night in talks in the governor’s office and had planned to meet again Sunday night in hopes of finalizing an agreement.

Speaking to reporters Sunday night, Assembly Speaker Bass said she was confident that a budget package would be completed within “the next day or so.”

She said floor votes in the Legislature are tentatively planned for late this week. Details of what is in the package have not been disclosed publicly.

Among the issues that have bedeviled the months-long negotiations: a plan to take money from local governments; education funding; cuts in state welfare services; and the governor’s demand that changes to the structure of state government be part of any plan to plug the budget gap.

While legislative leaders did not meet on Sunday evening, The Sacramento Citizen has learned that high level staff did gather in the Governor’s office on Sunday afternoon to discuss and review some of last outstanding pieces of the budget puzzle.

So what’s in the current proposed deal?  Capitol Weekly reports the following: 

“Under the framework of the deal, sources in the governors office and the Legislature say schools would be cut $680 million above and beyond the reductions adopted by the Democrat-controlled legislative conference committee. While the state’s welfare program, CalWORKS, would not be entirely eliminated, the cuts would also go beyond what the conference committee had proposed.

Democrats also appear to have been able to hold the line against reducing the length of time people can receive welfare benefits. Currently, there is a five-year maximum on welfare benefits, and Schwarzenegger had sought to reduce that number to two years. Democrats said it appeared changes in the benefit eligibility timeline would not be made as part of this budget deal.

“Local governments are also slated to take a big hit, but Bass said it remained unclear what the final number on local government cuts would be. Among the proposals on the table are to take about $1.6 billion worth of gas tax revenues from locals, and another plan to borrow up to $2 billion from local governments overall budgets.”

Unless the train runs off the tracks during negotiations today, lawmakers could be looking at a budget vote by Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

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