State bud­get ex­ists in the gap

Af­ter ap­proval of $117.5-bil­lion gen­eral fund, law­mak­ers re­turn to ne­go­ti­a­tions with Gov. Brown.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Mege­rian

Demo­cratic law­mak­ers ap­prove a costlier bud­get than Gov. Jerry Brown pro­posed. Ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue.

SACRA­MENTO — Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers passed a new bud­get Mon­day, but the de­bate over state spend­ing is far from over in the Capi­tol.

Shortly af­ter the ap­proval of a $117.5-bil­lion gen­eral fund, leg­isla­tive lead­ers re­turned to ne­go­ti­a­tions with Gov. Jerry Brown in an at­tempt to reach a fi­nal deal.

“We’re close,” said Assem­bly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).

Law­mak­ers’ pay would have been docked had they not passed a bud­get by mid­night. But the plan they ap­proved is $2.2 bil­lion larger than what Brown pro­posed, and the gover­nor has re­peat­edly ex­pressed con­cern that the Leg­is­la­ture’s rul­ing Democrats want to spend too much.

Based on higher rev­enue es­ti­mates than Brown ac­cepts, Democrats added ex­tra money to re­store healthcare ben­e­fits cut dur­ing the re­ces­sion, ex­pand state­sub­si­dized child care, pay more to doc­tors who serve poor pa­tients and boost funds for public univer­si­ties.

That fund­ing re­mains in doubt as talks con­tinue.

Brown has held the up­per hand in bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions in re­cent years, per­suad­ing law­mak­ers to pare their spend­ing plans and em­ploy more re­strained rev­enue es­ti­mates. But state in­come has out­paced his pro­jec­tions, and on Mon­day some Democrats ap­peared ready to dig in their heels.

“This is not rule by fiat,” Se­nate leader Kevin de León (D-Los An­ge­les) said. “This not a monar­chy.”

A new bud­get is re­quired by July 1, the be­gin­ning of the new fis­cal year, and the next steps are un­clear.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions with Brown could pro­duce new leg­is­la­tion for law­mak­ers to ap­prove in com­ing days. Or the gover­nor could use his veto power to strip from the Leg­is­la­ture’s plan any spend­ing that he dis­likes.

Brown de­clined to say what he’s plan­ning.

“No, I can’t tell you that, be­cause we’re in con­ver­sa­tion with the Leg­is­la­ture, as you type, dis­cussing these var­i­ous mat­ters,” he said at a Los An­ge­les news con­fer­ence on cli­mate change

Mon­day morn­ing.

Democrats would need help from Repub­li­cans to over­ride any Brown ve­toes, and GOP law­mak­ers are un­likely to pro­vide it. Even though they sup­ported some in­di­vid­ual spend­ing pro­pos­als, Repub­li­cans harshly crit­i­cized the ap­proved bud­get as un­sus­tain­able.

“We can’t stay the course,” said Sen. John Moor­lach (R-Costa Mesa). “It will lead to a fis­cal im­plo­sion.”

The Democrats’ plan re­lies on rev­enue es­ti­mates that are roughly $3 bil­lion higher than those used by the Brown ad­min­is­tra­tion. Much of that money would be al­lo­cated un­der Cal­i­for­nia law to schools and com­mu­nity col­leges, the state’s rainy-day fund or debt re­pay­ment.

That leaves $749 mil­lion in dis­cre­tionary spend­ing for in­creased gov­ern­ment ser­vices.

In a bud­get as big as Cal­i­for­nia’s, that’s “a round­ing er­ror,” said Se­nate Bud­get Chair­man Mark Leno (DSan Fran­cisco). “But we use that round­ing er­ror to ben­e­fit Cal­i­for­ni­ans who are still strug­gling.”

Among other changes, the Democrats’ bud­get would elim­i­nate re­stric­tions that deny ad­di­tional ben­e­fits to women who give birth while al­ready re­ceiv­ing wel­fare. The change would cost $103 mil­lion in the next bud­get and po­ten­tially dou­ble that amount in fu­ture years.

Be­sides ne­go­ti­at­ing aid to the poor, more work needs to be done on other ar­eas of the bud­get.

The gover­nor and law­mak­ers have post­poned the de­bate over how to use some rev­enue from the state’s ca­pand-trade pro­gram, which charges fees to pol­luters.

About 60% of the rev­enue will be di­rected to the state bullet train pro­ject, sub­si­dized hous­ing and other trans­porta­tion pro­grams. But the re­main­ing 40% — al­most $900 mil­lion — has not been al­lo­cated.

State law re­quires the money to be used to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions. Brown wanted some of it for energy ef­fi­ciency projects and drought re­lief; Repub­li­cans have sought to use it for road re­pairs.

Some far-reach­ing pol­icy is­sues also re­main un­set­tled.

Thou­sands of work­ers who pro­vide state-sub­si­dized child care would be per­mit­ted to union­ize un­der the Democrats’ plan — a po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory for or­ga­nized la­bor.

Brown ve­toed sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion in 2011, say­ing it would have in­creased tax­payer costs.

In ad­di­tion, the gover­nor is push­ing a bud­get-re­lated pro­posal that would al­low the state to re­quire lo­cal wa­ter agen­cies to con­sol­i­date if they failed to pro­vide ad­e­quate ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter.

The Assn. of Cal­i­for­nia Wa­ter Agen­cies and other or­ga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments op­pose that leg­is­la­tion, say­ing such a change is un­nec­es­sary and too broad.

Atkins de­clined to say whether law­mak­ers sup­port the pro­posal.

“We’re still in dis­cus­sion,” she said.

Rich Pe­dron­celli As­so­ci­ated Press

REPUB­LI­CAN ASSEM­BLY MEM­BERS, in­clud­ing Brian Dahle of Bieber, cen­ter, hud­dle be­fore the Assem­bly takes up the state bud­get at the Capi­tol.

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