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GOP lawmakers unveil first budget plan: no new taxes, more cuts, optimistic assumptions

May 12, 2011 | 10:01 am

Republicans in the Legislature on Thursday produced for the first time a detailed plan to balance California’s budget, relying on no new taxes but deep spending cuts, in particular for the state workforce, the mentally ill and the disabled –- and a dose of optimistic assumptions.

The plan, unveiled by Assembly Republicans only days before Gov. Jerry Brown will update his own budget blueprint, would fund public schools at the same level as the governor has proposed and avert further reductions to the state’s universities.

After months of brushing aside calls for a comprehensive package, Assembly Republicans stepped forward with a proposal that minority leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) outlined in a letter she sent to Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles).

The GOP budget is precariously balanced –- with a razor-thin reserve of less than 1% -– and would require voters to sign off on shifting $2.3 billion from mental health and early childhood programs to shrink the deficit.

Still, Republicans called it a victory. They said it laid bare the lie in Brown’s repeated claims that deep cuts to schools and police are inevitable without more taxes.

Under their plan, Republicans would wipe away the biggest chunk of California’s estimated $15-billion budget shortfall by projecting $5-billion more in tax receipts than Brown did in January. Tax collections have outpaced forecasts by roughly $2.5 billion in the last four months, and Republicans said they expect the trend to continue.

The state workforce would face layoffs or pay cuts totaling 10% of payroll*. An additional 10% would be whacked from departments’ operating and equipment budget. Combined, those cutbacks would save $1.7 billion.

[Updated: The original version of this post said the state workforce would face a payroll cut of 15% due to incorrect information provided by the Republican caucus. The correct number is 10%.]

Republicans would also enact roughly $1.4 billion in cuts to services for the needy that Brown first proposed in January but that legislative Democrats have blocked. Those include plans to cut welfare grants, eliminate day care centers, slash in-home assistance for the elderly and reduce services for the disabled.

Republicans also said they have identified nearly $1 billion in savings through trimming government “waste,” such as shrinking Medi-Cal eligibility fraud ($300 million) and transferring prisoner medical care to the University of California or the private sector ($400 million). The GOP budget also includes provisions to hire private contractors instead of state workers to perform many services, such as electronic court reporting, saving $700 million.

Many of the ideas in the GOP budget have been dismissed by the Democrats before. And as recently as last week, Conway had said Republicans were reluctant to detail a plan because it would “get picked apart, criticized” without any chance of enactment by the Legislature’s ruling Democrats.

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento