SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday rejected the budget sent to him hours earlier by the Legislature, criticizing it for failing to meet his reform demands and solve California's persistent fiscal problems.
The announcement marked the first time in modern history that a California governor would veto a state spending plan. It set in motion a historic showdown with the Democratically controlled Legislature, which has said it is prepared to override the governor's pending veto.
Schwarzenegger's announcement that he will veto the budget came after a record-long stalemate that forced the state to delay billions of dollars in payments to schools, medical clinics, daycare centers and state vendors. Lawmakers finally cobbled together a patchwork spending plan on the 78th day after the start of the fiscal year, passing a $143 billion budget shortly after 2 a.m. Tuesday.
He called the budget irresponsible and said the reforms it contained were phony.
"I say enough is enough," Schwarzenegger said. "California has been put through this roller coaster ride too many times."
The budget deal generated just enough Republican support to reach the two-thirds threshold needed for approval. Its main feature requires Californians to pay their income taxes sooner, a maneuver designed to close a $15.2 billion deficit without borrowing or imposing new taxes.
Even lawmakers who voted for the plan agreed that it merely delayed until next year the toughest decisions about how to balance the state's spending and expenses.
During debate Monday night, Schwarzenegger sent a letter to the Legislature's Democratic and Republican leaders demanding a stronger rainy day account to help the state weather future fiscal crises and curbs on when and how that money could be spent. Lawmakers did not meet all of his requests, setting up a possible veto.
The governor spoke Tuesday during a ceremony honoring law enforcement officers but did not take questions from reporters. He scheduled a news conference for mid-afternoon.
Top state officials say they are not aware of any instance in which a California governor has vetoed the entire state budget, going back to at least 1950. Michael Bartolic, a researcher with the State Library, said it would appear to be the first veto of a budget in state history.
The last time the Legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto was in July 1979, when both the Senate and Assembly rejected former Gov. Jerry Brown's veto of a bill giving state employees a pay raise.
Brown, who attended a law enforcement ceremony with Schwarzenegger earlier Tuesday, also suffered an override after he vetoed a bill reinstating the death penalty.
He said the budget sent to the governor's desk does not solve the state's financial crisis and only pushes the problems into next year. Schwarzenegger had urged lawmakers to come up with long-term solutions.
"The budget is a mess," said Brown, now California's attorney general.
The state Assembly is likely to convene Wednesday. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, predicted lawmakers will quickly override Schwarzenegger's veto.
"We will not let the people of California suffer," she said in a statement.
She blamed the budget meltdown on Schwarzenegger because he was unable to persuade Republican legislators to support his proposal for a temporary sales tax increase. She also said he supported the budget lawmakers sent him Tuesday except for the omission of the curbs he wanted on when the Legislature could tap the rainy day fund.
Lawmakers had agreed to his demand to raise the rainy day fund from 10 percent of the general fund budget to 12.5 percent.
"One single provision," Bass said in a statement. "That's no excuse to close down services for the developmentally disabled and make small business owners mortgage their homes to stay in business."