New California Transparency Rule Allows 3-Day Budget Review

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Californians will get three days to look over the final state budget before lawmakers take a vote this week, giving the public an unprecedented period to scour the spending plan ahead of a final decision.

The budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, will be the first since voters last year decided to require a 72-hour waiting period before a final vote on any legislation including the budget.

The spending plan must be locked down by Monday evening if lawmakers are to approve it by a Thursday deadline. The new rule has complicated budget talks for lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown, forcing them to negotiate on a compressed timeline, but also will give the public, lobbyists and even lawmakers more time to digest the plan.

An Assembly-Senate conference committee last week approved most pieces of a state budget that would largely preserve the status quo. It would boost spending on social services and higher education while expanding a tax credit for the working poor. Democrats hold a majority in both chambers, making it likely the spending deal will pass Thursday.

But lawmakers and Brown still remain at odds over $1.2 billion in tobacco tax money. Brown wants to use the money to cover normal growth in Medi-Cal, the publicly funded health care plan for the poor. Lawmakers want to use much of it to increase payments for Medi-Cal doctors and dentists. It’s unclear if a deal on how to spend the tobacco tax money must also be made 72 hours before the final vote.

Helen Hutchison, president of the League of Women Voters of California, said she thinks the new rule will have a positive impact on the budget process and on the legislative process in general. The legislative process works best when there’s a “chance for everyone to weigh in before a final vote,” she said.

“It does allow the public and the press to be able to get in there and see it,” she said. “In that sense, it’s more difficult to slip things in.”

Republicans, which are in the minority in both the Senate and Assembly, have long complained that they’re forced to vote on budget and other important legislation pushed by Democrats before they’ve had time to wade through everything in the bill.

Voters last year overwhelmingly approved Proposition 54, which amended the state constitution to impose new transparency requirements on the Legislature, including the 72-hour waiting period and a requirement to livestream legislative proceedings online.

The rule got its first big test in April when the Legislature voted to increase gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees. To secure the last votes they needed, Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders agreed to direct more than $900 million toward special projects that were priorities for lawmakers on the fence.

Rather than slipping those guarantees into the tax bill at the last minute — which would’ve triggered a new three-day waiting period — they were approved in separate legislation days later.

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