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State lawmakers set aside squabbles to aid shelters, cities and counties

October 14, 2009 |  2:35 pm

Setting aside political squabbles, Senate Republicans lifted their blockade on several budget bills today, voting with Democrats to approve measures that restore funding cut from domestic violence shelters and help cities and counties borrow money to balance their budgets.

Republican lawmakers had refused last month to help muster the necessary two-thirds vote for two dozen pieces of legislation in a dispute over unrelated matters. "We've resolved the issues and we're moving forward," said Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta) after Wednesday's vote.

Lawmakers said they hope to carry the new bipartisanship into negotiations over a new plan to upgrade California's state water system. The Senate on Wednesday gaveled in special sessions on water and tax reform.

Senators voted unanimously to approve a measure restoring $16-million cut from the budget for 94 domestic violence shelters. The cuts resulted in a half-dozen shelters closing and others reducing their services.

"We have put more families at risk," Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) said of the cuts. "When shelters close down, lives are at stake."

The spat between the two parties was not the only one that affected SB3X 13. The Democratic leadership stripped Yee's authorship of the bill in a pique after Yee dissented from the Democratic majority on other budget bills.

Yee said he was putting aside his frustration with having his name removed from the bill and supporting it, but complained on the Senate floor about a lack of tolerance of dissent.

"We're not in the stone age. We don't beat people down," Yee said.

The dispute between Republicans and Democrats centered on Hollingsworth's claim that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) reneged on a promise of action last month on several Republican priorities, including a proposal to scrap ReadyReturn, the state tax assistance program.

Steinberg has refused to allow a vote on the proposal, which would benefit Intuit, which makes TurboTax. Hollingsworth said that specific matter is unresolved but that the bills acted on Wednesday were also important to Republican members.

The Senate vote was also unanimous on a measure to make it easier for cities and counties to borrow against future funding from the state to plug budget holes created when the state took $1.9 billion of their funds this summer.

The state has three years to repay the $1.9 billion, and SB 67 allows cities and counties to borrow tax-free against that repayment to reduce budget shortfalls now, saving about $200 million in financing costs.

"This will help all of the local government agencies to weather the recession in a positive way," said Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny (D-San Diego), the Senate's budget chairwoman.

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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