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State budget passes

SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers ended the nation’s longest budget impasse today, agreeing to a $145 billion spending plan that eliminates the state’s persistent deficit and addresses the myriad concerns of holdout Republicans.

The deal emerged quickly after the Assembly and Senate failed to agree on a budget late Monday night and ends a stalemate that has lasted more than seven weeks beyond the start of the fiscal year. It will free up billions of dollars in payments to a variety of social service agencies that rely on state funding, as well as to community colleges and some education programs.

The deal also allows the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to move forward on an ambitious policy agenda that includes sweeping health care reform and a proposal to overhaul California’s massive water-delivery system of reservoirs, pumps and canals.

The budget plan, which had passed the Assembly last month, was approved 27-12 in the Senate with two Republican votes, just meeting the required two-thirds majority. It now goes to the governor, who has said he supports it.

Pressure intensified to reach a budget deal after lawmakers returned Monday from their summer recess. They have just four weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session, forcing them to act quickly on hundreds of bills as they are trying to negotiate the more difficult and far-reaching policy matters.

The final deal came together after legislative leaders from both parties agreed on the core budget plan and on a variety of separate demands sought by Republicans. Some of those demands were included in separate bills that were voted on simultaneously with the budget on Tuesday.

The delay in approving a state spending plan has been an exercise in frustration for both parties and the governor.

The Assembly passed a bipartisan budget bill on July 20, shortly before dawn after an all-night session, and then left for its monthlong vacation.

The Senate took up the bill the next day. When it failed to generate enough support, the Senate president locked members in the chamber overnight, a tactic that failed and may have served to chill negotiations over the ensuing weeks.

California is one of just three states — along with Arkansas and Rhode Island — that requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass its budget. That means it requires some support from minority Republicans. Until Tuesday, the Senate could muster only one of the two GOP votes it needed, leading to the prolonged stalemate.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin, and Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, finally provided the support needed to send the spending plan to Schwarzenegger.