California Lawmakers Pass Budget Plan Ahead of Midnight Deadline

Legislators had until midnight to pass a balanced budget or they would have had to forfeit pay

California lawmakers passed a record $117.5 billion spending plan Monday that sends more money to public schools, establishes a new tax credit for the working poor and expands social services to help the poor even as they continue negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown.

Democratic leaders were able to galvanize Senate and Assembly lawmakers behind the new budget, but Brown wants less spending and he has the ability to veto the plan. The Democratic governor and Republicans say the state won't collect as much in tax revenue as Democrats are projecting and that big spending increases could leave the state in a bind if the economy dips.

The budget adds $749 million to a spending plan Brown recently proposed for the fiscal year that starts next month.

"This budget is fiscally responsible, pays down more debt faster, puts more money into our rainy day fund, puts more money into public education and begins, if minimally, to reinvest in the needs of the people of the state of California," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chair of the Senate Budget Committee before the vote.

Legislative Republicans were united in their opposition and called Monday's vote a ploy to make sure lawmakers don't miss a paycheck. Under state law, legislators had until midnight to pass a balanced budget or they would have had to forfeit pay.

"It's not a budget bill, it's the Legislative Paycheck Protection Act," said Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, who is vice-chair of the Assembly Budget Committee.

The State Controller's Office said that lawmakers met their deadline by passing AB93, even though they plan to amend it following negotiations with Brown.

The governor's finance spokesman, H.D. Palmer, said significant progress has been made and that they expect to reach a deal in the next few days.

Brown proposed a $115.3 billion budget last month and the two plans are similar in many ways.

Both call for billions in additional spending for public schools and higher education, money for the rainy day fund and debt payments, and a new earned income tax credit that would help as many as 2 million struggling state residents.

Brown, however, doesn't want to increase spending to expand welfare, health care or child care programs, since his analysts say the state will collect $3.2 billion less than estimates used by Democrats.

Monday's spending plan calls for increasing thousands of child care and preschool slots, providing additional aid to families on welfare who have more children, giving raises to Medi-Cal doctors and dentists and restoring services to a program that helps keep seniors out of nursing homes.

Democrats also want to make California the first state to extend health coverage to children who are in the country illegally.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, attempted to add a revision of the state's cap-and-trade program, which aims to reduce industry-related carbon dioxide emissions. The change would have removed fees on companies that produce gasoline and other fuels, which Republicans say has cost consumers at the pump. Democrats immediately rejected the proposal.

The spending plan passed the Assembly on a 53-17 vote, support that included a Republican who voted in favor by mistake. Assemblyman Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita said he was distracted by Facebook at the time and later switched his vote.

The budget cleared the Senate 26-13, with Democrats in support.

De Leon, the Senate leader, said the Legislature did its job and will continue to negotiate with the governor this week.

"We do not submit ourselves to the executive branch and say whatever it is you want, we'll do it," he said. "This is not a monarchy."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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