Candidates Weigh in on Budget Mess

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The two candidates seeking to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were quick to criticize him again Monday for failing to reach a deal with the Legislature on how to solve California's $19 billion budget shortfall.

     Yet neither Republican Meg Whitman nor Democrat Jerry Brown has offered a solution to the budget impasse -- a dilemma the next governor could inherit if a deal isn't reached soon.

    Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers are at a standstill 10 weeks after the start of a new fiscal year, as the governor and Republican lawmakers seek more cuts to social service and other programs and the Democratic-controlled Legislature wants to suspend some tax breaks.

    At separate campaign events, Whitman and Brown said they would start the budget process and bring lawmakers together much sooner. But they've repeatedly declined to offer specific ideas on how they would close the shortfall lawmakers are confronting.

    If elected, Brown said, he would meet with all 120 members of the Legislature within a week to get suggestions on dealing with the budget deficit.

     Brown, now the state attorney general, said he would hold a special election within a few months "where the voters themselves can make the tough decisions that the Legislature can serve up to them."

    But getting such a measure on the ballot would not be an easy feat. It requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the state Legislature, meaning Brown would have to win over some reluctant Republicans for his idea to fly. He declined to offer any specifics on any possible measures, including whether he would seek a tax increase.

     Whitman, meanwhile, criticized Schwarzenegger and lawmakers for going to the public too much. She said voters were tired of being asked to make decisions that rightly fall on the shoulders of elected officials.

    "It's almost to the point now that the governor and the Legislature ... if they can't solve it, they kick it to the voters and I don't think that's what the voters want. They want the governor and the Legislature to solve problems," said Whitman, who appeared at a printer company in Sacramento.

    Whitman also took a swipe at Schwarzenegger for embarking on a trade mission to Asia last week and leaving behind the budget crisis. She said even if he went in search of jobs and economic growth, the state can't thrive without a spending plan, and every day without a deal drives down California's credit rating and its interest rate for buying bonds.

    "And it's almost like no one's really focusing on this," she said. "My view is the leader of this state, with the Legislature, has to work every single day from the beginning of January until we have a budget in place, and that nothing is more important than getting a budget in place."

    Whitman has also supported permanently taking away lawmakers' pay, tax-free per diem and travel allowance for every day the state goes without a budget past the July 1 start of the fiscal year. She also wants to ban lawmaker fundraising during that period.

    Brown, appearing at a solar power business in Los Angeles, slammed Whitman's proposals to trim taxes, saying that would drive an even bigger hole into the budget.

    Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders from both parties canceled a scheduled budget meeting because the governor was too ill to travel to Sacramento, his office said.