http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2009/02/27/buchanan-talks-budget


Danville Express

Newsfront - February 27, 2009

Buchanan talks budget

Freshman assemblywoman disappointed in forced compromises

by Geoff Gillette

Last week legislative aides in Sacramento passed out toothbrushes to the members of the Senate and the Assembly in preparation for the budget battles to come. They obviously needed them as lawmakers stayed in session until early Thursday morning hammering out the final compromises to allow passage of the state's budget.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D., Alamo), weary from the long and arduous budget process, said Thursday she was pleased that they were able to reach an agreement.

"I appreciate the efforts of the Democratic and Republican leaders to reach a bi-partisan solution to California's unprecedented budget crisis," she said. "The steps we took today have prevented the eighth largest economy in the world from going bankrupt."

The spending package passed by the Senate and Assembly will include $15 billion in spending cuts, $11.4 billion in new borrowing, and $12.8 billion in temporary tax increases. In addition it will create a $1 billion reserve fund.

As part of the state's attempt to trim back expenditures, members of the Assembly have chosen to reduce their budget by 10 percent. The cost savings has been directed to the Employment Development Department.

Buchanan herself took it a step further, asking the State Controller's Office to reduce her salary by another 10 percent as well.

"I've always believed that people in leadership positions should lead by example. If we're willing to cut funds to programs around the state we should be willing to cut our own funding, too," she explained.

Schools are expected to take a sizable hit from the cuts in the budget as will health care institutions and entitlement programs. Buchanan, a former school board member, estimated that the San Ramon Valley Unified School District could see a decrease of $400-$450 per student.

"If there's any light at the end of the tunnel," she stated, "it is that the education cuts could have been a lot worse. I'm proud we were able to fight for the education cuts to be paid back in future years."

Partisan disagreements were largely to blame for the long delay in passing the budget, a factor which nearly caused the furloughing of 20,000 employees and a multi-million-dollar expenditure in temporarily mothballing and then restarting a number of costly state projects.

The Democrats finally gained enough ground to pass the budget when Sen. Abel Maldonado (R., Santa Maria) agreed to cast his vote in favor. Buchanan had a no-nonsense explanation for how they won over Maldonado.

"We agreed to pay the ransom," she stated. "He wanted several things and we agreed to them."

Some of the concessions forced from the Democrats included:

* Non-partisan, open primaries

* Legislators will receive no salary increases while the state is in a recession.

This was Buchanan's first budget session as a freshman legislator and while she didn't come in wearing rose-colored glasses, she was surprised by the behavior she saw at the capital.

Buchanan said she was surprised at the level of ransom they had to pay at the end in order to get the budget passed.

"It was very disappointing. If all 120 legislators did that we'd never have a budget," she said.

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