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Schwarzenegger budget would fire 5,000 workers, release up to 23,000 prisoners

May 14, 2009 |  2:43 pm

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today proposed major cuts to education, healthcare, prisons and other services on the eve of a special election that will determine how many billions he and lawmakers must slice from the budget to curtail a growing shortfall.

The governor offered two scenarios. The first was grim, to address a $15.4-billion deficit that finance officials say the state will face even if voters approve a set of ballot measures Tuesday. The second was devastating, intended to close a $21.3 billion gap if the measures fail.

The governor’s plan, unveiled this afternoon, would take $5 billion from public schools if the ballot propositions fail and $3 billion if they pass. Depending on the size of the budget gap, the state would also borrow up to $2 billion from local government and release up to 19,000 undocumented immigrants from state prisons, turning them over to federal authorities. Up to 23,000 other state prisoners could be sent to county jails.

In either budget scenario, Schwarzenegger would also lay off 5,000 workers, sell the Los Angeles Coliseum, Sports Arena, San Quentin State Prison and other facilities and eliminate some state boards and commissions.

Only three months ago, Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders reached a budget deal they said would carry the state through the middle of next year. But a worsening economy and falling tax revenues have thrown that plan way out of balance.

--Michael Rothfeld in Sacramento