Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders quickly ended whatever impasse existed and agreed to a $167.6 billion spending plan that will vastly expand aid to children.
When you get down to it, what better use of taxpayer money is there?
There is plenty to go around in the fiscal year that starts July 1, because of California’s improving economy and the top-heavy state income tax system that relies on the fortunes of rich people and capital gains.
California’s public schools and community colleges will receive nearly $70 billion – $14 billion more than last year. That is due to the intricacies of Proposition 98, the 1988 initiative that ensures schools get the bulk of budget windfalls.
Brown agreed to the Democrats’ request for $265 million for preschool and child care for the children of poor parents, providing full- and part-time slots for 13,000 additional kids.
At the urging of Sen. Ricardo Lara and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, the governor appropriated $40 million to provide health care for the children of undocumented immigrants.
Although some may see that as extravagant, disease does not check immigration status. The children are here, and they share classrooms and playgrounds with the children of citizens and legal residents.
Better that they receive checkups with pediatricians and get vaccinated against communicable and debilitating diseases than end up making far more costly emergency rooms visits. Once again, California policymakers are taking a clear-eyed view of illegal immigration, while Congress dithers.
Because the Legislature approves the budget by a majority vote, Democrats control the process, and Republicans are sidelined.
But at the behest primarily of Speaker Toni Atkins and others in the lower house, the state is starting an earned income tax credit, a payment to the working poor that mimics a federal tax break. Median payments will be modest, $150 or $200 per family. But the tax credit rewords working people directly, and Republicans like it.
The budget is a time for payback. As part of the final accord, the California State University system received an additional bump of $97 million in ongoing funding. UC received a one-time payment of $96 million to pay down its pension liability.
In a news conference with de León and Atkins on Tuesday, Brown dryly noted that the Cal States did somewhat better in this year’s budget than UC. UC President Janet Napolitano was public in her demands for more money. CSU Chancellor Timothy White took a more low-key approach.
The budget includes its share of pork – though the definition of that is in the eye of the recipient – a hefty emergency fund and a $1.9 billion debt payment. There’s also much left to do.
The governor and Legislature will haggle over $2 billion-plus in cap-and-trade money later this summer. Brown called special sessions to deal with Medi-Cal and highway funding. But when the bulk of the budget becomes law on July 1, the biggest beneficiary will be the next generation, as it should be.