Lawmakers begin budget negotiations

By Alexa Haussler The Associated Press
Wednesday June 05, 2002

SACRAMENTO – Optimism was in short supply Tuesday as lawmakers delved into the grim task of carving $23.6 billion from the state budget. 

“There is no question in my mind that the outcome will be unhappy to virtually everybody,” said Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, who sits on a six-member panel working on a 2002-03 budget compromise. 

Tuesday marked the first day of intense marathon negotiations over Gov. Gray Davis’ election-year budget plan, which includes controversial proposals to raise car and cigarette taxes, cutting heavily from health care programs and borrowing from future revenues. 

Wednesday, the panel plans to take up deep cuts to health care programs proposed by Davis including an expansion to parents of the state’s health insurance program for poor children. 

The committee has less than two weeks to meet a seldom-observed constitutional deadline to reconcile the 400-page plan into a compromise that satisfies the state Senate, Assembly and Davis. Chairman Steve Peace, a Democratic Senator from El Cajon, said he intends to meet seven days a week if needed to meet the deadline. 

The task will involve painstakingly dissecting many state programs one-by-one to cut, borrow, shift or even add money. 

Eventually, the committee must tackle sticky issues including funding health care spending, paying for schools and ultimately how much, if at all, to raise taxes. But those issues are likely to come later in the process. 

On Tuesday morning, the two-house Budget Conference Committee waded through an array of items ranging from doling out $6.7 million to the Department of Justice for anti-terrorism efforts to debating the pitfalls of funding local mandates.