Budget bills 'rushed through in the dark of night,' GOP complains
California lawmakers passed a spending plan for the coming fiscal year Thursday, meeting the state’s budget approval deadline with a $183.2 billion package that raises school funding, expands a tax credit for the working poor and gives the Capitol a greater say over University of California finances.
The main budget bill passed the Senate 28-10 and the Assembly 59-20 several hours later.
Thursday’s votes come nearly a week after the Democrat-controlled Legislature’s budget-writing panel forwarded a plan reflecting agreement with the Brown administration on a range of issues. A final pact followed a few days later when lawmakers and Brown came to terms on how to spend revenue from a 2016 ballot measure that raised tobacco taxes.
“This is a budget for all Californians,” said Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. “It protects our state’s fiscal stability while also making historic investments in education and our state’s infrastructure, both which are critical to keep our economy moving and growing.”
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, said the plan “does things for people, not to people. With this budget, we will protect what we have gained and we will persist in moving forward.”
Minority Republicans were unable to stop the budget’s approval, but slammed its contents and the process.
Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates criticized the budget as the “biggest in California’s history.”
Republican lawmakers repeated long-standing complaints that other bills in the package, which are theoretically meant to carry out the provisions of the main spending bill, often create major policy in their own right.
These were among those measures accompanying the budget:
▪ Legislation to curtail the state Board of Equalization’s power passed both houses despite a last-ditch pushback from opponents that included oil companies, unions and small businesses.
▪ A bill to make the timeline for qualifying a recall ballot measure months longer was approved by both houses. It would mean any Republican-backed ballot measure to recall state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, over his vote to increase the gas tax likely would be consolidated with the June 5, 2018, primary instead of being a stand-alone election later this year, when Republicans would likely make up a larger share of the electorate. Democrats say the GOP is abusing the recall process.
▪ Lawmakers approved a measure merging the voter-approved November ballot measure that legalized recreational use of marijuana with medical legislation previously passed by lawmakers to create a singular regulatory system in California. It would let retailers sell both medical and recreational weed at the same location. It also defines rules for driving with an open container, clarifies environmental requirements for licensees and authorizes a state inspector to conduct random quality assurance checks.
▪ Dam safety rules would be strengthened and dam owners would have to complete and maintain emergency action plans. The bill, though, would exclude those plans from open-records laws. It passed both houses.
▪ With an eye toward looming court fights, a budget bill would give unions more access to public employees. It also would prohibit public agencies from releasing employees’ private email address, which could be used in anti-union campaigns.
This week’s plan settles months of disagreement between doctors, the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown on how to spend more than $1.2 billion in tobacco-tax revenue generated by last year’s Proposition 56.
Of the total, $546 million would raise reimbursement rates for doctors, dentists and other health care providers.
Depending on the state’s fiscal condition next year, lawmakers could increase the payments to $800 million beginning July 1, 2018, the last year of the two-year pact. The extra money depends on the federal government approving the rate increases.
In related spending, the budget includes almost $35 million in the coming year, and $73 million the following year, to restore past cuts to Medi-Cal dental services. Also, the plan allocates $12.5 million to restore Medi-Cal optical services, but not until Jan. 1, 2020.
School spending would total $74.5 billion in the coming budget year, up 4.2 percent – about $3.1 billion – from the current year. The plan allocates another $50 million to the state-funded After School and Education and Safety program. And it includes $200 million to continue preschool and child care provider rate increases included in last year’s budget pact.
The package increased University of California funding by $131.2 million, and sets a target for UC to enroll 1,500 more students in the coming year. It reflects Brown’s proposal to hold back $50 million until the system carries out recommendations of a recent state audit that criticized the UC Office of the President.
The California State University would receive an additional $162.3 million. CSU leaders, though, have to find space for students denied entry to their preferred campus or program.
Under the plan, the state would end June 2018 with $8.5 billion in the voter-approved rainy-day reserve and another $1.4 billion in the state’s regular reserve.