A vote on a controversial provision to reduce the amount of time that thousands of inmates spend in California's prisons has been delayed, it was reported on Thursday.
The provision put forward by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders was designed to save public money in an effort to close California's 26.3-billion-dollar deficit, the Los Angeles Times said.
The Wednesday decision to delay voting on the provision followed a blowup a day earlier in which Assembly Republican leader Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo said he would withdraw his support for the entire budget deal if the proposal to cut the inmate population by 27,000 was included, according to the paper.
Blakeslee said he had no idea of the prison plan when he cast his vote to support the budget deal reached earlier this week.
The plan would allow the state to place on home detention prisoners with a year left on their sentences and those who are elderly or infirm, and to change sentencing and parole rules to reward offenders who show evidence of rehabilitation, said the paper.
Blakeslee and some police groups have labeled the corrections proposal "early release," a politically volatile concept that lawmakers and the Schwarzenegger administration say is a mischaracterization.
Blakeslee said his caucus was now ready to "move forward," and would offer its own plan "to achieve the necessary savings without jeopardizing public safety."
Democratic legislative leaders agreed to put off dealing with the issue to defuse the dispute.
Schwarzenegger, speaking to reporters, said the prison issue had caused "some misunderstandings, and we are ironing them out."
"There will be difficult moments," Schwarzenegger said. "But the bottom line is we're going to get this budget done."
Another component of the budget that continued to stoke anger was the state's plan to borrow or take 4.7 billion dollars from local governments.
More than 180 cities have passed resolutions to join Los Angeles County in suing the state, said Judy Mitchell, mayor of Rolling Hills Estates and president of the League of California Cities.
The budget proposal was a "Ponzi scheme that passes off responsibility to future governors, legislators and to our taxpayers," Mitchell said in remarks published by the paper.
Also drawing heat was the budget's plan to allow new offshore oil drilling for the first time in 40 years. Lawmakers and Schwarzenegger settled on a plan to allow the project near Santa Barbara County, which is estimated to be able to raise 100 million dollars in royalties in the coming year.
State Democratic Party Chairman John Burton called on Wednesday for it to be rejected, referring to it as a "sweetheart deal" for an oil company and "an affront to all Californians."