SACRAMENTO — Amid the din at Jerry Brown's election night party in Oakland, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg beamed about the prospect of a Democratic governor and a ballot measure allowing Democrats to pass a budget without Republican support.
"I'm looking forward to a fresh start," the Sacramento Democrat said. "We'll be able to govern, and we'll be able to focus on positive agendas."
Brown's own assessment of the significance of Proposition 25 was more reserved.
"The big problem is not just getting the majority to vote for a budget," Brown told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday. "It's dealing with all the cuts that have to be taken into account, and there's a very painful process that has to be gone through."
By lowering the threshold for passing a state budget from a two-thirds vote to a majority, voters placed the entire political burden for difficult program cuts on the shoulders of Democrats.
Next year's budget deficit could be $12 billion or more, and resolving it is likely to involve another round of unpopular spending reductions that run counter to the desires of traditional Democratic constituencies.
After complaining for years about Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's cuts, Steinberg knows better than most how difficult it could be for Democrats to control the Legislature and occupy the Governor's Office while also wielding the authority afforded them by Proposition 25.
"The Democrats are like the dog that caught the car," Susan Kennedy, Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, said at a postelection forum Thursday. "I don't think it's going to make it any easier for them at all."
Brown, having promised a bipartisan effort to address the budget, met after the election with finance officials and Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
He is scheduled to vacation this week, returning to the Capitol on Nov. 16.
"I'll be up here full time, working as much as I possibly can, as humanly possible, on the state budget," the former governor said.
He will have to work quickly. Major budget decisions must be made by about Dec. 15 to be incorporated into the governor's January budget proposal, the Department of Finance said.
Brown has not made specific budget proposals or said whether he would support a ballot measure to raise taxes – he has said he would not raise taxes without voter approval. He says he must confer first with lawmakers and conduct "a civic dialogue about the future of California."
That is a lot to accomplish in a month, and Brown suggested last week the process could take longer.
Yet the goal is not unrealistic, Kennedy said.
"He's pulling people into the room right now," she said. "He's got his people over at the Department of Finance as we speak."
The Department of Finance has been preparing for the transition of governors for months, talking with emissaries from Brown's and Republican Meg Whitman's campaigns before Election Day and compiling dossiers for the governor-elect, Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said.
Even in August, before the current year's budget was enacted, the department's Fred Klass said in a budget letter that next year's budget will likely require closing yet another deficit, cautioning department heads against discretionary funding requests.
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