Assembly Budget Compromise & VLF Trainwreck:
Assembly Dems & Governor Cut 11th Hour Deal In Big Win For LB's Jenny Oropeza: Assembly Votes To Amend & Put Her Balanced Budget & Deficit Bond Measures on March 04 Statewide Ballot; Oropeza Delivers Rousing Assembly Floor Speech; Republicans Seething, Refuse to Call Her Measure a Spending Cap
VLF Trainwreck With Potentially Devastating LB Budget Consequences: Assembly Democrats Block Two Bills -- Including One By Assemblyman Lowenthal -- To Backfill Local Gov't For Car Tax Reduction
(Dec. 11, 2003, signigicantly updated from initial 11:30 p.m. post) -- In an 11th hour development that had Democrats jubilant and Republicans subdued and seething, the CA Assembly and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to put an amended version of a balanced budget constitutional amendment and a deficit reduction bond -- authored by LB Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza -- on the March 2004 statewide ballot.
In a stentorian address during a dramatic nighttime Assembly session, Assemblywoman Oropeza, who heads the Assembly Budget Committee, hailed Governor Schwarzenegger for reaching a compromise, praising the outcome as an example of worthy bipartisanship.
In ringing oratory that cited grounds on which her bill prevailed over Republican backed plans while simultaneously invoking themes that Governor Schwarzenegger had sounded, Assemblywoman Oropeza noted her role in negotiating the high stakes outcome and said on the Assembly floor:
...Colleagues, this budget deal does make financial sense for our state. It's a bipartisan agreement that does not shortchange education in our state but instead lays the groundwork for stable funding and the promise for a bright future for every child in this state.
This bipartisan agreement does not hand over additional legislative powers to our Governor, but instead continues our historic and important constitutional balance of powers.
This bipartisan agreement does not strap future generations with our debt, because we don't want to mortgage our future. We don't want to saddle our grandchildren with this debt. Our kids and our grandchildren deserve better.
In short Colleagues, this proposal requires a balanced budget. Every year we must live within our means. It requires an automatic reserve fund. It establishes a common-sense, midyear budget correction process. And Colleagues, it prohibits us in the future to issue bonds in an effort to balance our budget. No longer can be borrow to solve our annual budget problems.
We care about fulfilling our promises! We care about keeping promises to the disabled under the Lanterman Act! We care about keeping our word to children, helped by the Healthy Families Program! We care about sticking to our goals to keeping the doors open to higher education through proactive outreach.
We care about the fiscal health of this state. Common-sense, fiscal responsibly solutions are better for our kids, better for our grandkids.
Make no mistake about it. We crafted this budget agreement largely because our Governor sat down. We worked together. We listened to each other and we hashed it out. We negotiated side by side. We hammered out a truly bipartisan agreement. For that, I have a great deal of gratitude. I am gratified by this collaboration.
It is my sincere and deepest and most abiding hope that this collaborative, bipartisan process, this commitment to cooperation and collaboration, is indeed the blueprint for future budgets and future efforts under this administration and this legislature.
If this is a sign of things to come, Californians have a lot to look forward to. If this is a sign of things to come, California has a bright future ahead of it.
And that California dream continues to be alive. Colleagues, please join me in making that dream a reality for every Californian, and vote Aye on this very responsible measure.
Minutes later, the Assembly voted to effectively block two bills -- including one by Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal (D., LB-PV) -- to backfill local government for the lowering of the tripled Vehicle License Fee (car tax).
Representatives of local government and public safety agencies have publicly warned that if Sacramento doesn't backfill the VLF money, it will create fiscal chaos for cities and counties. The consequences would be even more seriously felt for LB taxpayers...where LB Councilmembers have over the years created a massive structural deficit by spending more than the city takes in.
On November 17 as one of his first executive acts, Governor Schwarzenegger rolled back the car tax increase. The refusal of Assembly Democrats to provide a backfill could now send local governments -- including LB City Hall -- into a major fiscal tailspin.
Assembly Republican leader Dave Cox (R., Fair Oaks) fumed as Democrats stymied attempts to pass a VLF backfill measure. Two measures came before the Assembly, one by Republican Cox and the other by LB Democrat Alan Lowenthal to backfill local government...and were effectively blocked by Democrat "no" votes.
Before being interrupted by an objection from Democrat Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh seeking to curtail discussion of the backfill bills, Assemblyman Cox said:
Let me just tell you, that if the two bills regarding the vehicle license fee backfills do not get out of this house tonight, you can begin to look for law enforcement, for the Fire Departments, for all of those agencies to begin to lay off people.
And so I ask those of you all of you that have served on City Councils, Board of Supervisors, school district boards, I ask you to in fact reconsider your vote when the call is lifted regarding either one of those vehicle license fee backfills because Members, it's the right thing to do.
We cannot have a situation of where we in fact break the backs of the cities, counties and special districts by action of this Assembly.
On November 25, Governor Schwarzenegger told local officials, including LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill, that local government would be made whole for reduction of the tripled VLF. However, only the legislature has the power actually to provide the backfill money.
Attempts by LBReport.com to reach Assemblymembers Lowenthal and Oropeza for comment on the Assembly's VLF inaction were unsuccessful as we post.
Following the Assembly's blockage of the VLF backfill bills, Assembly Republicans leader Cox blasted Assembly Democrats in a written release:
Day in and day out, we have heard desperate cries from local government officials, fire fighters and law enforcement to restore local government dollars that were funded by revenues from the illegal car tax. It's time that Democrats respond to these pleas and work in a bipartisan spirit to do the right thing.
It's astounding that Assembly Democrats put local government services at
risk by blocking two bills that would have restored lost revenues to cities
and counties. Earlier this year, Gray Davis illegally tripled the car tax.
Governor Schwarzenegger did the right thing by rescinding the illegal tax.
Now, the Legislature has a commitment to restore the general fund backfill.
However, when posed with an opportunity to do just that, Assembly Democrats
engaged in 'politics as usual,' blocking both pieces of legislation from
reaching the Assembly Floor.
Critical government services should not suffer because Democrats are
unwilling to drop their political posturing and follow through on a
commitment. The Legislature is in a position to make whole on its promise
and Republicans are prepared to follow through on that pledge.
Assemblywoman Oropeza's two measures now proceed to the CA Senate, which may vote on them on Friday (Dec. 12). If approved there, they would be placed on the statewide ballot in March 2004.
Governor Schwarzenegger's decision to accept Assemblywoman Oropeza's two bills with amendments ensures statewide attention for the former LB Councilwoman...whose name will now appear on the March 2004 California ballot.
Assemblywoman Oropeza's high visibility victory comes less than a week after she urged (and won) defeat of Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed spending cap and bond measure in the Assembly Budget Committee she chairs.