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State Budget Creates Obstacle to Passing Bills

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Aired 4/20/09

Lawmakers are back from spring break Monday with a full agenda. They'll hold hearings on dozens of bills, ranging from cell phones for prisoners to prescription drugs. But just how much can they get done in the shadow of a new budget deficit? From Sacramento, Marianne Russ explains.

Lawmakers passed an unusual, 18-month spending plan in February. Theoretically, that meant instead of the usual summer budget debate, they could focus on other issues. Here was Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg in early February -as the budget deal was being worked out.

 "This could be a great year for California. We get this behind us. We work with the federal government and take the first step towards providing universal health care for all kids. We need to do that right away. We need to get right on water," Steinberg says.

Not so fast, says Jack Pitney, A Professor of Government at Claremont-McKenna College. "If you just had to use a single word to describe this legislative year: pain," he says.

As Pitney puts it, red ink drowns everything else. The state's non-partisan legislative analyst says California already faces a new eight billion dollar deficit. Pitney says significant policy changes usually require cash. He questions whether tackling the big stuff - for example, water - is a smart idea this year:

"From a political standpoint is might make sense for them to wait on that because voters are in a very grumpy mood right now and you don't want a measure like that to go down to defeat when it might pass under a sunnier climate," Pitney says.

Pitney expects the ballot measures this May to be defeated. Recent polls show only one of them is supported by a majority of voters - and that one's not going to bring in any money. If they are rejected, the state deficit will grow even larger.

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