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steinbergpic0818.JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg met with reporters today to talk about his top priorities as the Legislature makes its final push to the end of the session. Water, prison cuts, restoring the recent round of budget cuts to health and welfare services and reforms dominated the conversation. After the jump, see what Steinberg had to say on several key issues.

Water:

Steinberg stressed that striking a deal on water is one of the top priorities for the next three and a half weeks. He said he's not opposed to financing proposed projects through a water bond, but that past bond proposals in the $10 billion range are probably too high considering the state's current financial state. Schwarzenegger sent a letter to Democratic legislative leaders earlier in the day saying he wouldn't sign a package that didn't include a water bond that includes financing for dams.

Steinberg also said he is open to discussing including the construction of dams as part of the deal, even though he personally expressed skepticism about the cost of such projects. On the issue of constructing a peripheral canal to route water around the Delta, he said legislators "have to be open to 'alternative conveyance,' but only if there is a coequal plan for restoring the Delta and the Delta's fragile ecosystem."

For more on water, read E.J. Schultz's story in today's Bee.


Prison Cuts:

As Kevin Yamamura reported today, the Senate is expected to take up Thursday Schwarzenegger's plan for cutting correction costs by $1.2 billion.

"I'm confident we'll have the votes," said Steinberg, who will caucus with Democrats tomorrow

Steinberg said the Senate would vote on the governor's plan, but with slight modifications to clarify which elderly and infirm inmates could be eligible for alternative custody and release.

"The intent has never been to carte blanche release any inmates, elderly, infirm inmates," he said. "It never has been, but there has been some concern expressed, so we want to make sure that there are very tight criteria that would even allow for the possibility of allowing elderly and infirm inmates to be released."

Budget and constitutional reforms:

Steinberg said he hopes to focus on beginning to reform the initiative process.

"The initiative process in California allows anyone to propose an initiative which requires the expenditure of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars from the state general fund without requiring that the proponent tell the voters how they're going to pay for it is wrong and something that has to be changed," he said.


Tax overhaul:

Steinberg did not definitively say whether he will put the Commission on the 21st Century Economy's recommendations for restructuring the state's tax system, which are set to be released Sept. 20, up for a vote in 2009.

"I think eventually the idea would be to put it up for the vote... If it's ready and people are confident that the numbers and solid and the analysis is solid and there's some protection that you don't make a permanent change without several years' road test, maybe, I'm not averse to it," he said.

Schwarzenegger has said he will call for the Legislature to convene a special session in late September to consider the commission's recommendation, but Steinberg stressed the Legislature would ultimately decide if and when to vote on a tax system overhaul.

"We will set the time table, we will set the agenda and we will not be rushed into making any decisions of this magnitude without careful analysis and debate," he said.



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