Republican lawmakers in California have threatened to scuttle a budget deal secured by the governor and top lawmakers over a plan for prison spending cuts, but Democrats said on Wednesday a vote on the agreement will take place this week.
Republicans in the state Assembly said on Tuesday they would not vote for the agreement if it included early release of thousands of prison inmates to shave the state's expenses.
The warning came a day after Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and top lawmakers ended weeks of often tense negotiations by agreeing on a plan that relies heavily on deep spending cuts to close a historic $26.3 billion budget deficit to balance the state's books.
They also held out hope the legislature could vote by Thursday on the agreement, which proposed cutting $1.2 billion in prison spending.
Details of how the savings in prison spending would be posted emerged on Tuesday and included provisions for reducing the size of the state's prison population by 27,000 inmates -- which Assembly Republican Leader Sam Blakeslee took as throwing the state's prison gates wide open.
Blakeslee warned the Democrat-led legislature's leaders that Republican votes needed to pass the budget deal would be withheld if it included a sweeping prisoner release.
As of Wednesday morning Assembly Republicans were waiting on specifics of the budget agreement's prisons provisions.
We would want more details, said Ted Gaines, floor leader for the Assembly Republican caucus. Our number one goal is to make sure there is not a threat to the public.
It's a very sensitive issue ... because we are the party of law and order, Gaines added.
The roil among Assembly Republican prompted damage control by Schwarzenegger's administration, which included the state's prisons chief on Tuesday night outlining how his department would cut inmate costs.
The budget package would reduce the inmate population by 27,000 inmates over time, but those reductions are not obtained through early release, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate said in a statement.
This proposal would help divert some inmates and parole violators from prison, allow some low-level offenders to serve the last 12 months of their sentence on house arrest, and deport select criminal alien felons, Cate said. This combination of measures is designed to reduce costs by $1.2 billion and prison population from 167,000 to 140,000 ...
Schwarzenegger's office was not immediately available for comment but an aide to a top Republican in the state Senate's minority said a budget vote is on track for this week.
Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, said the row erupted from a misunderstanding and would not derail a vote on a budget this week.
We're still anticipating a vote and hopefully getting something to the governor's desk by the weekend, added Alicia Trost, state Senate President Darrell Steinberg's spokeswoman.
The sooner Schwarzenegger signs a budget the faster his finance department can put the finishing touches on its cash-flow estimates, which the state's treasurer and controller need to firm plans for issuing short-term debt, either in the form of revenue anticipation notes or revenue anticipation warrants, said department spokesman H.D. Palmer.
This isn't a situation where you can pass a budget on a Friday and go to the cash window the following Monday, Palmer said, adding his department needs a week to get its cash-flow analysis to the treasurer and controller.
Proceeds from the sale of short-term debt will help the state government smooth out its cash balance and maintain its target of $2.5 billion in cash at the end of each month to pay all of its bills, many now being covered with IOUs until a budget is signed into law, Palmer said.