State Lawmakers Beat Budget Deadline, But No Deal Yet With Governor

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State senators Hannah-Beth Jackson D-Santa Barbara) and Bob Hertzberg D-Van Nuys) high-five as Sen. Bill Monning D-Carmel) looks on during debate on the state budget at the Capitol in Sacramento, California on June 15, 2015. (Max Whittaker/KQED)

If there is one narrative that Democrats in the California Legislature are working hard to kill, it's that they have big differences left to iron out with Gov. Jerry Brown over a new state budget, differences reflected in the budget approved on Monday afternoon.

"We're differing from the governor's proposal by about point eight of one percent ," said state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) as he introduced the legislative plan which passed both houses on a party-line vote.

"So all of the news stories, all of the drama," said Leno, "is over point eight of one percent."

Leno's comment was focused on about $800 million in discretionary spending, the amount by which the Legislature's $117 billion in general fund spending exceeds that proposed by Brown last month.

But that gap is actually part of a larger, more fundamental disagreement -- one about economic expectations over the coming twelve months and the governor's push for more conservative revenue predictions. Those predictions have been, as legislative Democrats point out, generally wrong; but they've also then allowed the governor to funnel additional dollars into one-time expenses, not ongoing government programs like those legislators hope to boost in the wake of the state's deep recession.


"Our state is on firm financial footing," said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) in her floor speech. "And that stability gives us an opportunity that has been rare in recent years."

The legislative budget plan boosts spending on education and social services programs. It would, among other things, expand slots for child care services for the working poor; add more money than Brown's plan to the CSU system; incrementally increase spending on developmental disability services; and fund Medi-Cal services for all children regardless of their immigration status.

State Senator Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, speaks on the budget in the Senate Chambers at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California on June 15, 2015.
State Senator Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, speaks on the budget in the Senate Chambers at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California on June 15, 2015. (Max Whittaker/Getty)

The budget also would increase K-14 education funding, thanks to existing state budget formulas, to $69 billion in the fiscal year that begins on July 1. And through the mandate approved by voters last year, it would set aside more money than Brown's budget for debt repayment and cash reserves.

In all, the Legislature is assuming about $3 billion more in tax revenues, the source of all of this additional spending. For his part, Brown was mum on Monday after an event in Los Angeles how much -- if any -- of this he will accept.

Democrats were effusive in their praise for the spending plan on Monday, many taking to social media to extoll its many virtues. While there were early differences between the two houses, those were quickly hashed out last week by a budget conference committee, thus setting the stage for Monday's vote.

Republicans, whose votes in the Assembly and Senate aren't needed to pass a budget, pointed out that only a fraction of the bills needed to implement a state budget were brought up for a vote on Monday -- proof, they argued, that the votes were being driven only by the date on the calendar: June 15, the deadline by which legislators aren't paid without passing a budget.

"It's not a budget bill," said Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) in her floor speech. "It's the legislative paycheck protection act."

But no one thought the final outcome was in doubt. In fact, the real highlights of Capitol chatter were whether Democrats would actually send the main budget bill to the governor's desk -- or procedurally hang on to it in hopes of a quick compromise -- and the one GOP assemblyman who appeared to vote for the budget... but then made clear it was a mistake.

Budget watchers believe there's still substantial work to be done in closed door negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders. And there's plenty of time to do so, with two weeks left before the beginning of the new fiscal year.