SACRAMENTO (AP) — As a roomful of lawmakers and staff grinded through the last line items of the Legislature’s spending plan late one night, it became clear there would be no easy deal even though California’s budget is being crafted solely by Democrats and state coffers are awash in cash.
Deputy finance director Keely Bosler repeated Gov. Jerry Brown’s concern that lawmakers are setting spending levels too high by assuming the state will collect billions more in taxes than Brown has estimated.
Boosting social programs for the poor, she said, would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars each year, making it harder for the state to weather the next economic downturn.
“We really do not want to return to the boom-and-bust times that have really plagued the state over this past decade,” Bosler said.
California’s social service programs suffered deep cuts in the last recession, and now Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature want to increase spending on them as the state rebounds.
California is dedicating the bulk of its tax revenue on education by boosting everything from kindergarten to college under a $117.5 billion budget plan lawmakers are expected to vote on Monday. Brown, a Democrat, proposed a $115 billion plan and has not signed off on the legislative plan, which means back-room negotiations with Democratic leaders will continue in the days ahead.
Monday’s vote allows lawmakers to say they have met the constitutional deadline to pass a budget and continue receiving pay.
“We’ll see how strongly the governor will hold the line on spending, but he’s always got the veto at his disposal,” said Jeff Cummins, a political science professor at California State University-Fresno and author of “Boom and Bust: The Politics of the California Budget.”
The state is supposed to have a spending plan by the time the 2015-16 fiscal year begins July 1.
Brown’s proposal includes billions in additional spending for public schools, setting aside money in the state’s rainy day fund and adopting a new earned income tax credit for the working poor. Democrats largely adhered to those plans.
Under a voter-approved education funding formula, spending on kindergarten through community college will rise from $60.9 billion in 2014-15 to $68.4 billion in 2015-16. Schools would get another $700 million in state support this year under the Legislature’s higher revenue estimate.
But Republicans are warning against using rosier revenue numbers.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, called it a risky move.
“I am afraid legislative Democrats want to spend money that may not exist and that once again will push our state into budget deficits down the road,” he said.
Democrats hope to get Brown’s blessing to spend $749 million more next year for thousands more child care and preschool slots; to give doctors, dentists and providers in Medi-Cal a 5 percent boost in pay; to allow families on welfare to receive additional aid if they have more children; and to end a 7 percent cut to a program that helps seniors and the disabled stay out of nursing homes.
They say the state is rich enough to help those who haven’t benefited from California’s economic recovery.
“Young people in California who watch us and see what we do should be proud that we’re investing in them,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego and chair of the Assembly Budget Committee.
Democrats also are proposing spending more on some higher education programs, including:
– $70 million more than Brown proposed for the California State University system, including tighter restrictions on a scholarship program for middle-class students;
– Offering another $25 million this year for the 10-campus University of California system, contingent on it increasing enrollment by 5,000 next year. University spokeswoman Dianne Klein said that’s “impossible” to meet.
– The legislative budget plan honors an agreement between Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano to freeze undergraduate tuition for two years in exchange for a budget increase of $120 million above its $3 billion base, a 4 percent raise.
It’s likely the political wrangling will continue even after the budget is passed.
“The governor is a very good politician, but he’s not the only politician in Sacramento,” said Alan Auerbach, economics professor at UC Berkeley.
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