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Democrats, Governor Debate California Budget Total

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SACRAMENTO (AP) — As budget talks enter the final week, Democratic state lawmakers are pushing Gov. Jerry Brown to accept higher revenue projections so more money can go toward restoring social services.

A key disagreement has emerged over the size of the 2014-15 spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lawmakers face a June 15 deadline set by the state constitution to pass a balanced budget.

Brown’s administration is using a more conservative revenue estimate for a $107.8 billion general fund and warns against paying for new programs with temporary increases in tax revenue. Lawmakers want to use figures from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which predicts the state will collect $2.5 billion more.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said the administration believes those revenues are “questionable, given what we are seeing in the economy” and remain a concern in budget negotiations.

State leaders are dealing with surplus revenues for the upcoming budget after years of multibillion-dollar budget cuts to social welfare and other state programs. Both sides have agreed to a rainy day fund and paying down liabilities for teachers’ pensions.

But lawmakers want to undo some of the recession-era cuts to health and welfare benefits by relying on rosier revenue projections in their proposals. They have been placing pressure on Brown by withholding money for the high-speed rail project from “cap-and-trade” fees on businesses that emit greenhouse gases.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, on Monday downplayed the disagreements over the size of the budget.

“We feel pretty good about the expenditures we are talking about falling within the conservative projection. But we have to be careful, and we will be,” she told reporters.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, did not answer a question Monday about revenue projections.

“We always find a way and will again,” he told reporters, describing past negotiations. “We are going to make some good solid investments in kids, in infrastructure and some other key areas.”

Steinberg has pushed for a $378 million preschool program for children of low-income families, a scaled-down version of his original call for transitional kindergarten for all four year-olds. The governor addressed the earlier proposal with skepticism.

“The truth is there are many good ideas in health care, in schooling, environment, in prison reform, in court expansion. But we only have so much money,” Brown said at a news conference last month. “We do live within the revenues given until more money is provided by new taxes.”

A group of Senate and Assembly lawmakers trying to resolve differences in their budget proposals did not meet as expected on Monday. It’s unclear whether a budget vote will happen before Friday, but legislative leaders say they expect to meet the Sunday deadline.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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