Education and Health Care Boosted in $167 Billion State Budget
Governor Jerry Brown talks in his office with Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (left) and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (center) after signing the state budget June 24, 2015. (Joe McHugh/California Highway Patrol)
Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday quietly signed a $167.6 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, authorizing higher spending on K-12 education, universities, child care and preschools.
The budget also breaks new ground by expanding medical coverage to the state's 170,000 undocumented children and creating California's first earned income tax credit for the state's working poor.
Brown signed the budget with only legislative leaders in attendance, and barely used his blue pencil: Line-item vetoes included in the final budget totaled just $1.3 million, a tiny fraction of the $115 billion in general fund spending authorized for next fiscal year.
The biggest cut made by the governor was a $1 million reduction to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, money that would have been used to help restore Clear Lake in Lake County. Brown wrote in a veto message that there are "existing grant programs that are available and appropriate to support the restoration of Clear Lake" and directed his administration to provide technical assistance to identify that money.
The governor also deleted a provision in the budget that would have transferred responsibility for the Tower Bridge to the cities of West Sacramento and Sacramento, and given the cities some funds to help with the transition. Brown wrote that while he backs the concept of relinquishing some state highways to locals, he does not "support using the budget process to circumvent" a normal negotiation process.
Democratic lawmakers had pushed for higher spending on public assistance and other programs, but some still praised the spending plan, saying it invests in integral state programs such as education while paying down billions of dollars of debt and funneling $1.9 billion into the state’s rainy day fund.
But in a written statement, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins noted that there's still work to be done on two of the state's most pressing fiscal issues: How to fund much-needed transportation infrastructure improvements, and how to tackle a $1 billion deficit in the state's health care program for low-income Californians. Brown called special legislative sessions on both issues as part of the budget agreement with lawmakers, and has indicated that another key health issue -- funding for care for the developmentally disabled -- should also be tackled then.
"The budget the Governor signed ... is not only a reflection of our state’s economic health, but a plan that will continue to help build California’s fiscal fitness," wrote Atkins, a San Diego Democrat.
“While the budget signed today is clearly the best one we’ve had in years, there is more work to do on Medi-Cal, DDS [the Department of Developmental Services] and infrastructure," she wrote. "Today, I will be appointing the members of the Assembly committees for the special sessions that have been called on health care and infrastructure. Those committees will take the lead in resolving the important issues still before us.”
Not everyone was happy with the package of bills signed by Brown. Republican lawmakers, while pleased that Democrats agreed to more conservative revenue estimates for the 2015-16 fiscal year, last week slammed Senate Bill 88, a drought-related budget trailer bill. It will allow the state to consolidate small water districts if they are serving disadvantaged communities with unsafe water, temporarily exempt some recycled water projects from environmental review and let local water agencies issue penalties of up to $10,000 if conservation requirements are violated.
The Senate's Republican leader, Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, was more muted in his criticism Wednesday, saying in a written statement that "our crumbling infrastructure should have been part of the budget."
"I remain concerned that the record high spending levels will not be sustainable in the near future, and I disagree with some of the priorities in this budget plan," he wrote. "However, I am pleased that it reflects the more sensible revenue projections, increases funding for education, grows our state rainy day reserve, and pays down past budgetary debts. We still have a lot more work to do to improve our state's fiscal health and eliminate the $200 billion of outstanding debts and liabilities."
And advocates for the state's poor decried Brown's refusal to expand welfare spending after the deep cuts made during the recession.
"California and Governor Brown have turned an important and historic page on a dark recent past with respect to undocumented residents, starting with California’s kids,” Daniel Zingale, senior vice president for the California Endowment, wrote in a statement. “While this budget represents a high benchmark for California, our fight for health for all has a long way to go. Too many people are still locked out, and we will continue pushing for a healthier future for everyone.”