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As first 'Big 5' set to convene, GOP senators want budget action

With the state budget tardy and no end in sight, some California legislators are getting restless.

On Monday, Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Penn Valley, asked Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, from the floor of the Senate for a budget update.

"Not being on the budget committee, not hearing anything on the floor and not being on the conference committee, I have absolutely no idea what is going on," Aanestad said.

Suggesting Aanestad was grand-standing, Perata said that since the Senate Republican Caucus doesn't meet until Wednesday, he should direct his questions at Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine.

Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, said lawmakers weren't always so blasé about missing the June 15th constitutional deadline for submitting a balanced budget or the start of the July 1 fiscal year.

McClintock recalled that in 1983, his first year in the Assembly, after the budget was four days late, the Assembly met daily to debate the issues in public.

Now, he said, legislative leaders and the governor generally hammer out the details in private while the rest of the Legislature stands by.

"When this Senate abandoned its responsibility to negotiate and discuss the budget as a house prior to sending it to a conference committee, we set in motion this extra-constitutional abomination called the 'Big Four' and `Big Five' and nothing happens." McClintock said.

He said Perata owed lawmakers a budget report. The Senate president promised to deliver one on Thursday.

Perata, Ackerman, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Assembly GOP leader Mike Villines will meet later Monday with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in this year's first 'Big Five' confab.

Perata suggested there are fewer differences between Democrats and the Republican governor than between the governor and his GOP colleagues.

The Senate president said Democrats are not willing to agree to further spending cuts in social services, which Republicans are demanding.

"We're not going to take people's wheelchairs away from them," Perata said. "And we're not going to take somebody's attendant away from an 88-year-old woman whose able to live in her home because we have in-home care."

Late budgets are not new to the state. Although Schwarzenegger signed a budget bill last year on June 30, during the past 25 years, the budget has twice been approved during September.

The latest was Sept. 5, 2002 -- 67 days after the fiscal year began.