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LS hollingsworth.JPGSenate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth was adamant earlier this month about leaving his post next Wednesday no matter what, but he and his successor now say the date depends on the state of budget negotiations.

Before a meeting Thursday of legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hollingsworth said he'd delay the leadership handoff if a budget deal is imminent. But if Democrats and Republicans remain far apart, Hollingsworth said he would hand over the reins to Senate Republican Leader-elect Bob Dutton.

"If the Democrats drop their demands for unsustainable levels of spending and higher taxes, then it'll mean we're probably getting pretty close and there's no reason why we couldn't postpone the transition and finish it off," Hollingsworth said. "But if they are not going to drop those demands for higher spending and higher taxes, it means we're essentially at square one and there wouldn't be any harm in Sen. Dutton taking over because there wouldn't be very involved negotiations happening yet."

Dutton said he'd prefer not to have the switch occur in the middle of negotiations.

"My preference would be to have Dennis finish the job of the budget," Dutton said Wednesday. "He's already been in discussions on it. I certainly have participated in the process, I've been in (joint budget committee hearings), I know the budget as well as anybody does. But Dennis has got things worked out with the governor and some of the members."

Hollingsworth said two weeks ago the switch would happen "rain or shine, budget or no budget." He also noted that "as with any negotiation, when one of the parties change, you may expect it would have to start over from the beginning. Not that it should, but you may expect that it would need to."

That raised concerns that a GOP shakeup could set back budget talks. But Dutton said he doesn't need to take over the reins next Wednesday.

"It depends on where they're at," he said. "If they're in the middle of negotiations, I think Hollingsworth needs to complete that. I certainly don't want to become an excuse for the Democrats to say, 'Oh, well, we've just got to start all over.' No, we aren't going to do that."

Senate Republicans switched leaders in the middle of budget talks last year. Hollingsworth became Senate Republican leader last February after his predecessor, Sen. Dave Cogdill, finalized a deal with Schwarzenegger and other legislative leaders to raise taxes temporarily and slash spending. The late change allowed the Senate caucus to pin the tax deal on Cogdill and the two other caucus members who voted for the package, while Hollingsworth took the reins with a clean slate.

Asked when he'd become leader, Dutton said, "It's hard to say. If we're a couple days from getting a budget, then I don't see any change taking place. But if all of a sudden it looks like we're not getting a budget until December, well, Hollingsworth is termed out. So there has to be somebody new come in at some point."

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate GOP leader Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta listens to arguments from his colleagues to pass the state budget last year. Sacramento Bee file photo, June 26, 2009/ Lezlie Sterling



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