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Calif. may end paralysis, pass budget after 2 months


SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- It has taken nearly two months -- two agonizing months during which California has been forced to pay it bills with IOUs, seen its once-enviable credit rating ruined, its old and poor threatened with loss of health care, and college classes shut.

But it appears now that California, paralyzed by recession, is finally close to passing a budget.

Weariness, lack of pay, panic over getting re-elected, public ridicule and political realities are combining to force members of the Legislature to end a protracted stalemate with Gov. Pete Wilson in erasing a $10.7 billion budget gap.

The likely winner in this stand-off, at least in the short run, is the Republican governor, but it remains to be seen how the public will respond to the painful cuts in public services he would impose.

The settlement that is emerging reflects the fiendishly complex world of California politics: The governor and the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, Willie L. Brown Jr. of San Francisco, are like two scorpions in a bottle; the 250,000-member California Teachers Association holds enormous political power and throws its weight behind Mr. Brown, and the powerful Democratic president pro tem of the state Senate, David A. Roberti of Los Angeles, seems to want Mr. Wilson to make him a judge when term limits force him to retire in two years.

To isolate Mr. Brown, Mr. Wilson is backing a deal being worked out by Mr. Roberti and the Republican leader, Sen. Kenneth L. Maddy of Fresno. The liberal Mr. Brown, in turn, has been courting the Republican right-wingers in the Assembly who have little love for the more moderate Republican governor.

Oddly, the budget is not snagged over how to balance this year's broken budget, but over the governor's efforts to limit the growth in state spending for public education in future years.

Having accepted the reality that there is no more money and having given up on raising taxes, liberal Democrats have glumly resigned themselves to enormous cuts in welfare, university support and other programs, but not on future education spending.

The Senate is expected to pass today the Roberti-Maddy plan, which closely resembles the governor's own proposal. Its fate in the Assembly is less certain because of Mr. Brown's opposition.

Agreement is difficult because the California Constitution requires a two-thirds vote on budget matters, or 54 votes in an Assembly with 47 Democrats and 33 Republicans.

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