California Lawmakers Rush to Pass Budget-Related Bills

The state's new plan starts July 1, relies heavily on voters approving initiative to raise the state sales tax and increase the income tax

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Democratic lawmakers are rushing to pass nearly two dozen budget-related bills to meet a Wednesday deadline for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a roughly $92 billion California spending plan.

Brown, a Democrat, has delayed taking action on the main budget bill that lawmakers sent to him June 15 so he could negotiate deeper cuts to help fill the state's projected $15.7 billion deficit. Wednesday marked the 12-day deadline for signing or vetoing the budget.

The governor and Democratic leaders had announced an agreement last week to restructure the state's welfare program, streamline health insurance for low-income children and reduce child care coverage and college aid. But Democrats who control the Legislature have been scrambling to draft companion legislation needed to implement the budget.

They were scheduled to vote on some 20 so-called budget trailer bills Wednesday.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said Tuesday that lawmakers planned to work all day to pass those remaining bills. Democrats have majorities in both the Assembly and Senate and can pass the budget without any Republican votes.

The state's new spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 relies heavily on voters approving Brown's initiative to raise the state sales tax and increase the income tax on people who earn the most. If voters reject the temporary tax on the Nov. 6 ballot, a series of automatic cuts would be triggered, including three weeks less of school for the next two years.

Democratic leaders agreed to Brown's request to phase in a two-year time limit for new welfare recipients to find work under the state's welfare-to-work program known as CalWORKS.

The two sides also agreed to eliminate Healthy Families, a children's health insurance program for low-income working families, by slowly moving 880,000 children into Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid. Doctors and advocates for families currently in Healthy Families continued to lobby Tuesday against the move, which they say would limit children's access to care.

In addition, the state will reduce funding for child care assistance, and college aid under the Cal Grants program will also be reduced beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

In the final days, Democrats included legislation that would appropriate more money for California's public universities if the University of California and California State University agreed to freeze tuition rates. The funding is contingent upon voter approval of Brown's tax hike in November.

Community colleges would get $50 million more as well.

Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said the teachers union pushed for increased community college funding if the tax passed. The money could help restore some 25,000 slots, he said.

"We think it's significant in terms of creating more spots for students at a time when classes have been cut," Pechthalt said. "Students aren't just being pushed out but bumped down from UC and CSU."

A bill that will be taken up Wednesday includes language that could give the governor's tax initiative top billing on California's November ballot ahead of a competing tax hike proposal by wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger. It would require bond measures and constitutional amendments appear on the ballot ahead of other initiatives and referendums.

Brown has projected the state will raise $8.5 billion in the new fiscal year starting July 1 by increasing the statewide sales tax by a quarter cent to 7.5 percent for four years and boosting the income tax on people who make more than $250,000 a year for seven years.

Legislation also allows Brown to furlough state workers without an agreement with their unions for a 5 percent reduction in wages. Service Employees International Union Local 1000, the state's largest state employee union, has tentatively agreed to a plan where covered workers will take 12 unpaid days of leave over 12 months starting July 1.

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