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California's budget drama intensifies

Gov. Schwarzenegger stakes his political legacy on fiscal reform without tax hikes.

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If the battle to close California’s whopping $26.3 billion budget gap were a play, the state’s politicians would only be starting the first act.

While the political theater in Sacramento is intensifying -- wheelchair-bound protesters rallying against cuts to social programs were arrested Tuesday and a top lawmaker has boycotted budget meetings -- analysts say that legislators are probably weeks away from coming to any agreement on how to close this state’s budget shortfall.

At the center of this drama is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is staking his political legacy on demanding a balanced budget that comes with fiscal reforms and without tax hikes.

“This is the year that we finally have to put our fiscal house in order,” Governor Schwarzenegger said Wednesday at a press conference to pitch his proposal for cuts to the state’s social welfare programs.

While Schwarzenegger says he wants to get rid of “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the state’s welfare-to-work program -- which he says could save the state $753 million this fiscal year and $1.5 billion annually -- Democrats say he’s mainly trying to force through reforms that he’s been trying to make for years because the end of his term is in sight.

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