By ROBERT DIGITALE | Santa Rosa PRESS DEMOCRAT
Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 4:30 a.m -- The 2008 state budget impasse is now among the fifth longest in the 22-year run of busted deadlines, and North Coast legislators -- all Democrats -- generally see little likelihood of a quick resolution.
What will it take to get a budget? "A lot of prayer," said state Sen. Patty Berg, D-Eureka, whose sprawling district stretches from the Oregon border to Santa Rosa.
She offered no specifics on what compromises she'd be willing to make, saying the budget is in the hands of "the big five," leaders -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the two party leaders in the Senate and Assembly.
"This is the worst impasse I've seen since I've been here," she said.
"State Sen. Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, was no more optimistic. "We're not much closer than we were from Day 1," she said
California is beginning its eighth week without a budget. A vote Sunday in the Democratic-controlled Assembly fell short of the required two-thirds approval and failed to receive the support of a single Republican.
The latest signing of a state budget in the past 20 years occurred on Sept. 5, 2002. Last year Schwarzenegger signed the budget on Aug. 24, the third latest in the past two decades.
The legislators acknowledged that time is running out for a budget solution that could include items requiring voter approval this November.
"We probably need to lock everyone in the room and not let anyone out," suggested Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.
The Secretary of State's Office has indicated that after this week it may be too late to get a measure on the November ballot. Republican lawmakers and the governor have warned that failure to get spending restraints onto the ballot could prompt a breakdown in negotiations.
Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said it is conceivable that the Legislature still could get items on the Nov. 4 ballot after this week, but the cost might become prohibitive.
She said the two sides need to find an acceptable compromise. But to her what seems clear is that Democrats resist a "hard spending cap" on future government growth while Republicans reject new taxes.
A third option would be to balance the budget by borrowing more money, but Evans said that approach is "a large part of why we're in such a budget mess now." As such, the Democrats are "staying hard and fast to the rule of no more borrowing," she said. That's a position shared by Schwarzenegger but not his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
Huffman said he is part of the leadership team on the budget for Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles. As such, he said, he has been "urging a budget vote for some time," and he maintained that Sunday's vote was helpful in allowing Republicans to vent and "blow off some steam."
Evans will become the new chairwoman of the Assembly Budget committee in November. She said she has been working with Speaker Bass and other budget committee members and staff.
The two also said they have been speaking individually with Assembly Republicans, trying to find any middle ground and to keep the discussions going.
"In the Assembly, that's not easy because both sides have been very polarized," Evans said.
Asked about her personal efforts, Wiggins said: "I keep telling locals and groups to push the governor to lead . . . He isn't doing that, but he should."
Evans and Huffman both said they "hate" the governor's proposed temporary 1-cent sales tax increase because of its regressive nature, meaning it takes a disproportionately larger bite from the pocketbooks of the poor. Still, they conceded they might support such a tax under certain circumstances.
Evans said her support for a sales tax hike would be tied to avoiding "huge hits" in the budgets of education, health care, parks, public safety and environmental protection.
Wiggins said she opposes the sales tax increase as regressive and too unpredictable for the amount of revenue it will provide the state.
Berg said she opposes the sales tax proposal and the Republicans' spending cap. "It's not how much money we have. It's how we spend it," she said.
Staff Writer Derek Moore and the L.A. Times contributed to this report