Lawmakers, administration snipe at each other as governor prepares budget address

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger prepares to address a joint session of the Legislature, tensions and tempers are beginning to rise.

At the budget conference committee Monday, Assembly Budget Committeee Chairwoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, vented some of her frustrations at chief deputy finance director Ana Matosantos.

Noting that the governor had made three separate revisions to his May budget, Evans curtly asked Matosantos "Are we done now?"

Evans’ cross-examination of Matosantos garnered an angry reply from the administration. “We will continue to revise our budget numbers as the situation deteriorates,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said. “It is our sincere hope that Assemblywoman Evans will be able to keep up.”

That is the context for Schwarzenegger’s unprecedented speech Tuesday. But as for substance, administration officials say they do not expect the governor to make much in the way of news.

So, Evans may well get the wish she articulated Monday when she said, “I hope there’s nothing new” in the governor’s speech Tuesday. Evans said she has still note seen a “comprehensive, single document that shows the revisions” made to the budget passed in February – revisions that are needed because of the continuing shortfall of state revenues.

Evans was clearly defensive about the possibility of the governor coming to the Legislature and imploring lawmakers to get to work. “If we keep dealing with new figures and new cuts, we’re not going to get it done,” she said. “I will not have anyone say this Legislature did not do its work on a timely basis, because we haven’t gotten the information we need from the administration.”

McLear said Schwarzenegger’s tone will not be combative Tuesday. But he will underscore the need for lawmakers to make deep cuts in state spending. “He’s going to provide the overall context for his budget proposal,” McLear said. “We’ve had a 27 percent drop in revenue, and we need to be doing 27 percent less in state government.”

In recent days, the governor has introduced new budget cuts, including plans to eliminate popular state programs like CalWORKS and Healthy Families, eliminate millions in funding for state parks, and to lay off up to 5,000 state employees.

But in Monday’s conference committee hearing, Evans pointed out that the governor’s latest proposal had a budget reserve of more than $4 billion, even while proposing cuts to popular programs that would not have to be eliminated if the reserve were smaller.

McLear defended the governor’s numbers. “There’s a need to have a reserve,” he said. “The swings in revenue are so dramatic, and we have to make sure we’re able to pay the bills.”

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