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Democrats press forward on budget plan: Taxes, accounting moves, cuts

June 14, 2011 |  5:31 pm

With their pay hanging in the balance on Wednesday’s deadline for a state budget, Democratic lawmakers are preparing to push through a spending plan that would tax purchases from online outlets such as Amazon.com, bump up car registration fees and local sales tax rates, and tack a new fee on residents in fire zones.

The plan would also cut more deeply into higher education, public safety and the courts. And it would defer billions of dollars in bill payments and revive a controversial plan to sell state buildings that was abandoned months ago because it was deemed too costly.

Crafted without Republican input or support, the proposal would rely on complex accounting maneuvers to raise the levies, according to Assembly budget staff involved in the process, so that it can pass without the GOP votes typically needed to increase taxes.

After Democrats slashed billions in spending earlier this year, mostly from programs for the poor, they would close much of the remaining deficit with the sort of accounting sleight-of-hand that for years has merely papered over California’s fiscal shortfalls.

It is not clear whether Gov. Jerry Brown will sign such a budget.

Democrats openly admitted that the plan, which many rank-and-file Democrats learned of Tuesday afternoon, was their distant second choice. They said stiff Republican opposition to Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to renew vehicle and sales taxes that expire this month forced their hand. Brown wants lawmakers to extend those taxes until a fall referendum on them could be held.

"If there was a glimmer of hope that if we waited until Friday, or Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week, that we could get the better solution with Republicans votes, obviously we wouldn’t be taking this up," said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles). “But that glimmer isn’t out there right now." 

This is the first year since voters empowered the Legislature to pass a budget with a simple majority vote. It's also the first year lawmakers will lose their pay if they don't pass a budget on time. If approved in both houses Wednesday, it would mark only the second time a quarter-century that the Legislature would have met its constitutional deadline for a spending plan.

"It’s essential that we deliver on the promise of an on-time budget," Pérez said. "The majority party has to go and continue to be responsible actors in the absence of anybody else."

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento