Governor, Lawmakers Face Weekend Budget Deadline
SACRAMENTO (AP) – Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers are trying to work out the final details of a budget for the coming fiscal year that largely adheres to the governor’s call for fiscal prudence while providing a modest boost to social and education programs.
Brown wants to dedicate much of the state’s budget surplus to a beefed-up rainy day fund and paying down state debts. But his fellow Democrats in the Legislature are pushing him to restore cuts to welfare, health care, child care and education.
Legislative floor votes on the main budget bill for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which starts July 1, are expected Sunday, the constitutional deadline for lawmakers to pass a balanced spending plan and avoid forfeiting their pay.
“We try to balance many objectives: fiscal balance, a healthy reserve, pay down debt and make some key investments in education, health and human services and other priorities,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in an interview Wednesday. “To find that sweet spot is always hard.”
Brown has succeeded so far at fending off major spending proposals from members of his own party. The Legislature’s joint budget committee announced a plan late Wednesday to include $264 million for expanding early education programs for 4-year-olds, an amount far below what Democrats originally sought.
That would pay for an additional 11,500 preschool slots for low-income families by June 2015, with an additional 31,500 slots planned in the future. Additional funding would be provided in the form of grants to existing preschool programs, increased child-care reimbursement rates and professional training.
Combined with existing programs, the proposal would provide early education assistance to roughly 234,000 children, covering half of all 4-year-olds in the state. Even so, it falls well short of Steinberg’s original goal of spending $1 billion to provide preschool to all California children.
Democratic lawmakers had also sought more money for higher education than Brown had proposed. Under a compromise, the University of California and California State University systems will receive an additional $50 million each if property taxes come in higher than projections.
It remained unclear Thursday just how much more money would be allocated for other Democratic priorities, including in-home care for seniors and the disabled, welfare and Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.
Democrats did secure flexibility in prison funding to spend tens of millions of dollars more on mental health services as a way to improve treatment and increase rehabilitation options.
The governor proposed a record $107.8 billion in spending from the general fund using more conservative revenue projections. Democrats, who control the Senate and Assembly, had wanted to use rosier estimates to restore services for the poor that were reduced during the recession, as California struggled to close multibillion-dollar budget shortfalls.
The governor and lawmakers already have agreed to a fresh version of the rainy day fund to smooth out the boom-and-bust cycles of state budgeting and begin paying down massive liabilities in the teachers’ pension system.
Brown and lawmakers have reached agreement how the state will spend new revenue generated from pollution fees under the state’s cap-and-trade program.
The governor had wanted to use $250 million next fiscal year then commit 33 percent of ongoing fees for California’s bullet train, but the compromise reduces that to 25 percent, according to legislative sources briefed on the matter. Lawmakers also will allocate portions of the pollution fees for affordable housing, public transit and energy-conservation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Even though the budget requires just a simple majority vote to pass the Legislature, Democrats were scrambling to negotiate details and meet Sunday’s deadline.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, criticized a hasty process that led to a budget committee hearing starting on Wednesday night without the Senate’s GOP member in attendance.
“That’s no way to run an institution,” Huff said Thursday on the Senate floor. “We should be embarrassed.”
Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he was not aware of the incident that upset Huff. He said he expected the budget bill and companion legislation to be in print Friday with a vote starting Sunday afternoon.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.