As lawmakers prepare to go to Washington, Democrats try to soften governor’s rhetoric

Like most of the budgets that have come before, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year is based on receiving money that most political insiders – including those inside the administration – admit the state will never receive.

This year, the governor’s $88 billion spending plan is contingent upon $8 billion from the federal government.  Legislative analyst Mac Taylor said the odds of the state ever receiving that money were “almost nonexistent.”

Democrats agreed with that overall assessment, but were optimistic that there could be some middle ground. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass said she is confident efforts to receive more federal aid for the Medi-Cal and for housing undocumented prisoners would bear fruit.

But, she says, the governor’s recent war of words with Washington isn’t helping.

“We in the Legislature are used to that kind of talk from the governor,” Assembly Speaker Karen Bass said Tuesday. “I think we’ve built a good working relationship with our congressional delegation and the (Obama) administration, and I’m not sure why the governor would come in throwing punches at the people you want to help you.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders are preparing for a three-day trip to Washington to lobby federal lawmakers and the Obama administration for more federal dollars.
While Schwarzenegger spent his week lashing out at the Obama administration and California’s Congressional delegation, Bass went out of her way this week to sound a more conciliatory tone.

In a statement Tuesday, Bass praised the White House for making some technical changes to federal law that will help California children in foster care, and on the state’s health care plan for low-income families.

“I appreciate the Obama Administration’s leadership as we move to strengthen the safety net for our kids, including the commitment they recently made to Healthy Families. Our partnership with the administration was critical in our efforts to keep 700,000 low-income kids covered under Healthy Families. I look forward to working cooperatively with the administration on the challenges we face in the coming year.”

Bass would not say how much additional federal money she expects to help bail the state out of its $20 billion budget hole. But Taylor indicated an additional $3 billion was more realistic.

Taylor also questioned other revenue proposals scored by the governor in his January proposal, including the governor’s plan to save $1.4 billion in state worker compensation and pensions. “We have doubts on whether that can be implemented,” Taylor said.

Taylor also said the administration’s revenue projections from corporate taxes were “a bit optimistic” and that there was $450 million in other revenue that was not accounted for.
For years, Schwarzenegger has talked about getting more money from Washington to help the state balance its books. In a February 2004 interview on Meet the Press, he famously called himself “the Collectinator,” vowing to put continued pressure on Washington for more money.

But this year is different in one important way. For the first time, Schwarzenegger has put a price tag on how much he expects Congress to cough up, and he has based his state spending plan on receiving those revenues. Schwarzenegger said a failure to secure that money could lead to the elimination of CalWORKS, Healthy Families, in-home support services and other safety net programs.

Bass scoffed at the notion that the state’s social safety net should be linked to squeezing money out of Washington.

“These are the same cuts that he proposed last year,” she said. “Now, it looks like he’s just trying to blame someone else for the cuts that he’s been pushing for more than a year.”
This is not the first time a state budget has been contingent upon long-shot revenue schemes. In recent years, the governor has proposed selling off EdFund, a portion of the State Compensation Insurance Fund, receiving billions more out of the state lottery, and diverting money from civil judgments into the state general fund.

None of those proposals came to pass, and many passed through the Legislature with both Democrats and Republicans knowing full well that the revenues would never materialize.
The result has been a lingering structural budget deficits that continues to keep the state mired in fiscal difficulty.

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