Calif. Legislature Approves $108 Billion Budget

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    California State Capital

    The state Legislature on Sunday approved California's $108 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, moving swiftly to beat a midnight deadline and adopting the highest general fund spending plan in state history.

    The legislation, SB852, passed 55-24 in the Assembly and 25-11 in the Senate, mostly along partisan lines.

    The unusual Father's Day legislative session came on the last day the Legislature had to meet its June 15 constitutional deadline to send a balanced budget to Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor and Democratic legislative leaders had agreed to the key details for the budget late last week.

    The final plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 meets Brown's demands for a rainy day fund and paying down debt while allocating some of the surplus to programs benefiting lower-income Californians.

    Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, highlighted some of the additional spending that was a priority for Democratic lawmakers, including $264 million for preschool and day care for low-income families that eventually will cover half of all 4-year-olds in the state.

    She said libraries, art programs, student financial aid and welfare-to-work programs were among the many state-supported services that will see more money in the coming fiscal year.

    "The investments in this budget are the most significant in years," said Skinner, chairwoman of the Assembly Budget Committee, while also noting the money dedicated to start paying down the hundreds of billions of dollars in state debts and liabilities. She said that part of the budget will "put California on strong fiscal footing."

    In the Senate, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg recalled the remarkable turn-around from what he described as the "bleak winter" of 2009, when lawmakers were called into special session to deal with a two-year budget deficit of more than $40 billion during the heart of the national recession.

    "The budget is not perfect," said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "But after a very dark decade, we are taking a bold step into the light."

    Republican lawmakers generally praised the overall budget plan for including the governor's more conservative revenue projections but said it still contains increased spending that will be unsustainable once temporary tax increases expire in a few years.

    Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, called it a mixed bag.

    He praised Democrats for accepting Brown's revenue projections for next year, rather than taking a rosier scenario presented by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, and for reaching a bipartisan compromise on a rainy day fund that will go before voters in November.

    But he said the budget will include $700 million less in debt payments than the governor had originally sought. Gorell also said it fails to live up to the promises of Proposition 30, Brown's sales and income tax increase approved by voters in 2012, because it does not provide enough money for public education or the four-year university systems.

    "It's hard to even consider this a frugal budget," he said. "We create more programmatic spending than even the governor has sent forth and are growing entitlement programs in this budget larger than we can adapt to."

    Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres was the only Republican lawmaker in either house to vote yes on the main budget bill.

    While the main bill sailed through the Assembly and Senate relatively quickly, some of the individual legislation -- officially called trailer bills -- that implement specific aspects of the spending plan ran into partisan opposition.

    In particular, Republican lawmakers criticized the use of money from a fund that collects industry fees through California's greenhouse gas emissions law.

    Democratic lawmakers gave Brown a significant victory in allowing him to tap the so-called cap-and-trade fund for California's high-speed rail project, which has been beset by legal and financial challenges. The budget directs $250 million from that fund to California's $68 billion bullet train, a priority of Brown's, while ensuring that the project receives 25 percent of the money in that fund in future years.

    "We spent billions so far and there is not one ounce of tracking being laid," said Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield. "It's like we are going to continue investing money in this project until someone finally says it's not going to happen."

    The rest of the cap-and-trade money will go toward water and energy efficiency programs, natural resource conservation, cleaner transportation, public transit and affordable housing projects.

    Another trailer bill that drew ire from Republicans was SB858, which sets a cap of no more than 6 percent on the amount of money local school districts can set aside for their rainy day funds.

    Republicans said it was ironic that the Legislature had crafted a compromise rainy day fund for the state earlier this year but was telling local school districts that they could not keep a robust reserve of their own if they desired.

    The bill was pushed by the California Teachers Association and other public employee unions, which want school districts to spend the money they receive in strong budget years. School administrators and the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the last-minute bill. They said it would hurt districts' ability to plan for economic downturns, when funding from the state is reduced.

    Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, called the legislation "unfair and irresponsible."

    "Let's put our kids first, and vote no," she said, before Democrats approved it on a majority vote.

    Republican support for the budget is not required because it takes just a simple majority to pass.

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