Tempers continue to flare as California ends its fourth week of the fiscal year without a budget.
Today, Jack O'Connell, in a letter responding to Sen. Jeff Denham's report that O'Connell called to apologize for the tone of a press conference earlier this week, denied he ever apologized to Denham.
"I write to take issue with your press release dated July 24, 2007, which incorrectly described a phone conversation we had," wrote O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, in a letter sent to Denham today. "Your description of my phone call as an apology mischaracterizes our discussion."
At issue is a Tuesday press conference called by the Education Coalition in Modesto - in Denham's district - to put pressure on the Republican senator to vote for the state budget passed by the Assembly.
"The students in Sen. Denham's district and in all of California are counting on the adults to do the right thing here and to pass a budget that funds these schools," said the California Teachers Association's Lynne Faulks on Tuesday.
But Denham took issue with the event, issuing a statement saying he would not be forced to vote for an unbalanced budget because of
"partisan press conferences."
Denham was the only legislative Republican the teachers' union endorsed in 2006.
To strengthen his case that the Tuesday press conference was overly political, Denham's office reported that O'Connell had called to apologize for the partisan tone of the event.
But O'Connell said today there was never an apology.
"I called as a courtesy to let you know the press conference would be taking place and that the tone of the event would remain respectful. I extend the same courtesy to all members of the Legislature when I am involved in public events in their districts," O'Connell wrote.
Below is the full text of Denham's press release (emphases were his), followed by the letter sent by O'Connell.
DENHAM RESPONDS TO DAY 24 OF STATE BUDGET STALEMATE
"Does Not Appreciate Partisan Press Conferences Aimed at Pressuring Votes for Unbalanced Budget"
SACRAMENTO-State Senator Jeff Denham (R-Merced) today continued to discuss the problems in Senate Bill 77, the proposed 2007-2008 State Budget. Denham wants the proposed budget to be balanced, but will not support cuts to K-12 education funding. Denham will also not support any tax hikes. However, he is willing to work with both Democrats and Republicans to achieve a balanced budget.
"My goal is to have a balanced budget," said Senator Denham. "It is not fair to the people of California for their Legislators to vote in favor of a budget that only increases the State's debt. A budget like this would force cuts to education next year. And, I do not support that."
This morning Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell called Senator Denham to apologize for the partisan tone of press conferences being held by some education leaders that he was scheduled to participate in. Senator Denham is happy to work with Superintendent O'Connell on this budget. However, he does not appreciate unproductive partisan press conferences held in his district aimed to pressure him to vote in favor of a bad, unbalanced budget.
On Friday July 20, Senator Denham, along with 13 of his Republican colleagues in the Senate, voted no on SB 77. The proposed budget bill failed to garner the necessary 27 votes (2/3's of the 40 member Senate) and was held on the Senate Floor by a 25-14 vote. The proposed budget is out of balance by at least $699 million. If the budget is passed in its current form, California will face operating deficits next year that exceed $5 billion and will continue to climb each year.
"It's unconscionable to take away the teacher's tax credit, particularly given that part of the budget proposal would also give tax breaks to Hollywood moguls and airline companies," Senator Denham continued. "However, there are several areas of pork that could be cut."
Some areas of waste that could be eliminated or reduced include the Cannery Business Park (Sacramento) replacement furniture for $1 million and the Labor Union Institute at UCLA, which would receive $6 million. Another waste of money is to give the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency $4 million, which spends its time discouraging homeowners from keeping their properties fire safe. The UC Mexico facility in Mexico City should not receive $7 million in this budget.
"The Mexican government should actually owe California for the money we spend to educate, incarcerate and provide health services for illegal immigrants," Denham concluded. "This state also provides Mexico with water. California should not spend $7 million on this facility in Mexico City. The State should be focused on funding education for children who live in California."
Senator Denham is also open to the University of California and California State University systems paying back taxpayers for the millions of dollars wasted the last few years on secret pay hikes, bonuses and housing allowances (such as $30,000 for a dog run) for executives.
Here's the letter O'Connell sent:
The Honorable Jeff Denham
California State Senate
1640 N Street, Suite 210
Merced, CA 95340
Dear Senator Denham:
I write to take issue with your press release dated July 24, 2007, which incorrectly described a phone conversation we had earlier in the day regarding a press conference I participated in with education officials from the Modesto area. Your description of my phone call as an apology mischaracterizes our discussion.
The purpose of the press conference was to urge members of the Senate Republican Caucus to end the budget stalemate by voting for a balanced budget that protects public education. This event was held in your district expressly because of your record of standing up for public schools and to urge you to lead the caucus towards a responsible course of action.
I called as a courtesy to let you know the press conference would be taking place and that the tone of the event would remain respectful. I extend the same courtesy to all members of the Legislature when I am involved in public events in their districts. I did not call to apologize for participating in the press conference or the tone of the press conference and I most definitely do not apologize for asking that the Republican Caucus to do the job the people of California elected the Legislature to do - pass a balanced budget on time - in fact, I demand it.
With the State budget now 26 days late, I strongly urge you to work with members of your caucus to end the budget gridlock and vote to pass a State spending plan that protects public schools.