State budget still not passed

    The state of California’s budget for the 2002-03 fiscal year remains in gridlock on the assembly floor almost a month and a half after the June 30 deadline.

    Since the Senate passed a modified version of Gov. Gray Davis’ revision in late June, the budget has not been welcomed by assembly Republicans, who would rather slash funding to state programs and agencies than increase taxes. The assembly failed to pass the budget bill, A.B. 425, on June 29 and has been debating over modifications since.

    “”Gov. Davis’ proposal takes spending levels to a new extreme,”” said Peter DeMarco, press secretary for Assembly Republican Leader Dave Cox, R-Sacramento.

    “”This is a spending problem and not a revenue problem,”” DeMarco said. “”Raising taxes is not the solution.””

    DeMarco cites a 37-percent increase in state government spending during Davis’ three-year tenure that has caused Republicans to block the passage of the governor’s budget.

    However, Democrats have defended the proposed budget because of its commitment to funding programs they say are essential to the state.

    “”A.B. 425 reflects the priorities important to the Democratic caucus such as providing education, healthcare and disability assistance programs,”” said Kristal Dekleer, a spokesperson for Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Carson.

    “”The Conference Committee has already cut $7 billion from the current budget. We can cut no more.””

    A major point of dispute in the state budget has been the Vehicle License Fee, a car tax that was to supplement the budget with approximately $1.7 billion by imposing steeper fees when registering vehicles. Because the Vehicle License Fee had inhibited any progress toward a passed budget for over 30 days, Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, D-Los Angeles, introduced an increase to the cigarette tax in lieu of the car tax.

    Wesson’s proposed cigarette tax increase would amplify the already existing tariff of 87 cents to $3 per pack. Many assembly democrats, as well as the governor, are optimistic about Wesson’s proposal.

    “”It is clear to me that the elimination of any vehicle license fee increase is the Republicans’ highest priority,”” Davis said in a Aug. 8 statement . “”The speaker’s proposal to swap the VLF increase for an increase in the cigarette tax is something I can support.””

    Meanwhile, the University of California has taken the initiative to make up for cuts to its allocation. Over $20 million has been put back into the UC budget since the governor’s May revision.

    An additional five-percent cut was made to research, allowing the university to restore funding to the system’s new dual admissions process, student-initiated outreach, College Preparatory Initiative, Central Valley Outreach and Graduate and Professional School Outreach. The Preuss School, UCSD’s K-12 charter school, will also see an augmentation of $400,000 under the tentative revisions.

    The University of California has also implemented a six-percent increase to nonresident tuition beyond the four-percent increase originally proposed in the regents’ budget. The tuition hike is estimated to generate an additional $4.3 million to be spent on the K-12 School/University Partnership and other outreach programs.

    UC spokesperson Brad Hayward said that university officials do not know how long the budget impasse will last, but that they are strongly lobbying to protect the K-12 outreach programs and UC employee health care.

    “”It’s good that the assembly is focusing on the issues,”” Hayward said. “”But we still do not have a good sense of when it will pass.””

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