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The state Senate this afternoon began approving a majority-vote state budget package that relies on a combination of funding cuts, revenue increases and one-time solutions to close the remaining $9.6 billion deficit.

The main budget bill, which makes changes to a spending plan approved in March, cleared the Senate on a 23-15 vote with less than 11 hours until the constitutional deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget.

The package proposed by majority Democrats includes deeper cuts to higher education and the courts, a quarter-cent increase to the sales tax and a $12 increase to the vehicle registration fees. It also relies on higher revenue projections and maneuvers like bringing back an abandoned proposal to sell state buildings and tapping into funds meant for health and educational programs for young children.

Democrats, who unveiled the package this week when Republican support needed to pass Gov. Jerry Brown's tax extension proposal failed to materialize, stressed that the legislation up for a vote is not their preferred plan.

"This is indeed a very sobering moment in that this is not our choice of budget but it is what we can do without support for the governor's proposal," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

They said they hope an agreement on extending and holding a statewide election on the higher tax rates set to expire can still be reached, pointing out that the governor will have 12 days to decide whether to sign the plan passed today.

Republicans countered that Democrats and their labor union allies scuttled any chance at a deal by refusing to accept Republican-backed proposals for a state spending cap, pension system overhaul and regulatory re-write.

"Clearly the Democrats didn't want to go down this path to reform, but they wanted to come back and scare us. They wanted to scare the state," said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, vice chairman of the Budget Committee.

Both houses are meeting today to take up a series of bills related to the budget package. Failure to pass a balanced budget by today would result in legislators' pay being docked for every day the plan is late.


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