SACRAMENTO -- The state Senate announced Friday it will meet through the weekend to hammer out a compromise for addressing California's remaining budget deficit, as talks begin in earnest just days before the Legislature must pass a spending plan.
To meet lawmakers' June 15 budget deadline, Democrats have focused on closing most of the remaining $9.6 billion gap by renewing temporary increases in the state sales tax and vehicle license fee enacted two years ago. But the legislative and executive branches disagree on how to do that.
The tax hikes expire by June 30. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown wants to extend them until September, when he hopes voters will approve another extension through 2016 in a special election. He also wants the personal income tax hike renewed next year.
On the other hand, Democratic lawmakers in both houses want the Legislature to extend the tax increases for one year so schools have another year of guaranteed funding. They would leave it up to the governor to set an election date for tax extensions beyond 2012.
"The longer we can extend them, the better, so schools have certainty," said Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio of Santa Ana.
Either plan requires two Republican votes in each chamber, which have yet to materialize.
But Brown said Tuesday he thinks a deal is "very close."
He has been negotiating with a handful of GOP lawmakers in each chamber on a spending cap, pension reform and regulatory reform. That includes Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, who said he is not ready to support new or renewed taxes.
"As we speak, no," he said. "But time will tell."
Republicans believe voters would reject more taxes, which is why they show greater willingness to allow a special election than to renew taxes directly.
The Assembly does not meet again until Monday, increasing the odds that it will wait to see what the Senate passes and vote on that.
Brown made a campaign promise not to further tax Californians without their consent. Though a Legislature-approved tax bridge to September doesn't involve voters, the governor is more likely to sign off on that than on a much longer extension through 2012.
He originally asked for a June special election on the tax hikes, which would have been more palatable to voters as an extension rather than a new tax.
"It's just the timing of it all, it's difficult," said Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez, D-Cathedral City. "In my opinion, we missed our chance. Now I'd prefer we extend taxes until next year, but I'm not going to argue if we can get the four votes."
Lawmakers, who earn as much as $125,000 a year, will lose pay for every day past June 15 that they don't approve a budget. While none has admitted that is an important motivation to stick to the deadline, the money can add up: Last year's budget was an unprecedented four months late, though the threat to withhold pay is new this year.
Further complicating negotiations are Brown's attempts to eliminate redevelopment agencies and economic zones, which Democrats have said they do not support. Democrats also want to use an unexpected $6.6 billion in state revenues to restore some of the funding that was cut in March, when legislators tackled the state's initial deficit of $26.6 billion.
It is far from certain that the governor, who has emphasized his ability to make tough cuts despite partisanship, would agree to go back on any part of the first round of spending reductions.
Also on legislators' minds are the once-a-decade redistricting maps, drafts of which come out Friday. The new lines will likely form more centrist voting blocs, which lawmakers will have to consider as they vote on the budget and contemplate re-election. California's future districts will squeeze out some legislators and lump others together, forcing them to campaign against different rivals and for different constituents.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.