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Berryhill joins Assembly during budget crisis
"Baptism by fire" is the term that best describes the first weeks of Bill Berryhill in the state Assembly.

The Ceres grape farmer admits he'll likely be fighting feelings of discouragement after being thrust into a huge partisan battle to deal with the state's monumental budget deficit.

"It's an historic time - California's got so many problems," said Berryhill on a return visit to Ceres on Friday. "California is about as bad as it's ever been. You feel like you bought a ticket on a runaway train."

But he insists that he's up for the challenge.

Berryhill was sworn in on Dec. 1, continuing in a family tradition of serving in the Assembly. His father, the late Clare Berryhill, served in the state Assembly. Brother Tom Berryhill sits nearby on the Assembly floor as a representative of the 25th District.

Berryhill offers a plain spoken view of the dysfunction of state leaders.

"It's worse than I expected in the sense of the attitudes. I cannot believe how no one cares about being on time. I'm of the mentality, you know, let's get the disc hooked up and let's go work some ground."

Berryhill said that as the state stares at a $11 billion deficit, the Republicans put forth their brand spending cuts and reforms. "Unfortunately our colleagues on the other side of the aisle chose not to even put them up. They're just disconnected with reality and it's frustrating. It's almost like you were witnessing a coup in the Assembly. They wouldn't negotiate in good faith at all. The Republicans in the Assembly were pretty much pushed aside."

Berryhill said the Democrats did agree on $6.1 billion in cuts as leverage but later walked away from them. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed the budget package put forth by Democrats since cuts weren't deep enough and because the stimulus packages was lacking, said Berryhill.

While the governor appears to be agreeable to tax increases, Berryhill and his party are opposed to them and insists they are unconstitutional. Tax increases are proposed on gas sales, oil severance, income tax and vehicle registration fees.

"Their package was about 70 percent reliant on tax increases and 30 percent at best on cuts." He said the Republicans had a plan to come up with $22 billion "without raising taxes" and offered a budget plan of 72 percent cuts.

Berryhill and other Republicans set forth a "holy grail" of a spending cut on a formula of population and inflation factors. Extra revenues in good years would be set aside in a reserve or given back to taxpayers or infrastructure.

"But they don't want that for anything and without that the Republicans are not going for any kind of tax increase."

With the state in financial turmoil, the Assembly should not be taking Christmas vacation until Jan. 5 as ordered by Speaker Karen Bass, feels Berryhill. He acknowledged that a session could be called to pass an economic stimulus package in order to get Schwarzenegger to okay the "illegal" tax increases, said Berryhill.

"If they do that, then we take them to court because it's been done illegally and I think we win," said Berryhill. "And then we've got nothing again. The projects have been shut down, more people out of work than ever instead of trying to work with their colleagues."

Republicans offered spending cuts and budget reforms including giving more flexibility to spending education dollars at the local school board level. He said the Democrats wanted to cut rural law enforcement, cut out the Williamson Act, and offered early release of prisoners, said Berryhill as he shook his head.

"Law enforcement is not the other party's priority and that's scary with the meth problem that we still have in this Valley. Rural crime is not something to mess around with."

Berryhill said he wants to see cuts in social programs, including In Home Support Services.

"None of these are easy but the fact of the matter is we ain't got the money," said Berryhill.

Berryhill said he would like to see reforms come to the initiative process, saying things have "gotten out of hand." He hopes to see a cap on what outside interests may spend on campaigns for initiatives. In response to the passage of Proposition 1A, Berryhill said: "Here we are broke and we put a high speed rail on our credit card." On the passage of Proposition 2, Berryhill said: "Here we are losing jobs and trying to do things to create jobs and we run an egg business out of the state."

No doubt about it, said Berryhill - governing California is very difficult because of the state's two very different political ideologies. The coastal area of California is liberal and the inland areas are very conservative. "Once I've been up there for two weeks, one of my thoughts was, man, I know why some people really believe we ought to split this state into at least two or three. The coastal region is just completely opposite of what the Valley is - in our value system and everything."

Berryhill, a former Ceres School Board trustee, narrowly defeated Democrat John Eisenhut of Turlock for the 26th Assembly seat formerly held by Greg Aghazarian, a Stockton Republican. He was only able to eke out a victory through the Republicans in San Joaquin County. Berryhill lost in Stanislaus County vote tallies.

The transition into the Assembly was greatly eased by retaining Aghazarian's district office and staff, including Carl Fogliani as chief of staff. There are no funds to have an office in Ceres, he said.

"It's kind of good to have your representative from the southern end of the district because I've got to travel clear through the district," said Berryhill. "If Stockton or Manteca have something going on, I can stop there real easy. And the office is there. But I'm down here by Friday afternoon and Saturday. Most everyone knows where I live."

Berryhill said he's enjoying the novelty of being the younger brother of another assemblyman. The last brothers to serve at the same time in the state Assembly goes back approximately 70 years.

"Bobsie twins was one of the terms I heard," laughed Bill.