California Senate stalls on budget, standoff continues

A frustrated California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, unable to persuade just one more Republican to vote on a budget-saving $14 billion tax increase, followed through Tuesday on his threat to send 20,000 layoff notices to state workers.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, meanwhile, remained poised to order a lockdown, which would prevent senators from leaving the Capitol building until the tax legislation passes.

That prompted legislators to stock sleeping bags and toothbrushes in the stately Senate chambers.

If the lockdown threat wasn’t enough to force action on a plan to close the state’s $40 billion budget hole, administration officials reminded lawmakers that, as of Thursday, 270 state-funded transportation projects will come to an abrupt halt, leaving thousands of road and construction workers in the state unemployed.

“It is clear that there is going to be catastrophic consequences for California if we don’t get this done today,” Steinberg told reporters Tuesday.

The Senate finally debated the tax legislation later in the day, but leaders repeatedly held off on calling for a vote, due to lack of Republican support.

Republican holds out for reform as state employees to be cut

With the budget resolution stalled, the Republican governor moved forward on his pledge to cut the state’s payroll by 10 percent, or 10,000 positions.

Preliminary layoff notices went out to some 20,000 employees who face the prospect of losing their jobs this spring.

Lynelle Jolley of the Department of Personnel and Administration said an unknown fraction of those workers will actually be laid off once the budget comes into better focus.

Jolley said 54 departments funded by the state’s general fund were asked to rank their employees by seniority and then submit a list of the bottom 20 percent. Seniority is calculated by a person’s total service with the state, Jolley said, not within each department.

The fourth day of the budget-vote standoff brought a somewhat surreal atmosphere to the Senate chamber, where lawmakers and staffers running on little sleep after marathon sessions had a hard time remembering what day of the week it was.

All eyes continued to focus on Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria. He has suggested he could be the third and final Republican needed to support taxes if the Legislature would adopt three controversial reforms he is seeking, including withholding legislators’ pay when budgets run late.

Sen. Dave Cox, R-Roseville, is the only other GOP member high on the list of potential lawmakers who may eventually side with the Democrats.

By Edwin Garcia / McClatchy Tribune

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