Smooth negotiations produce a prudent and progressive state budget

Gov. Jerry Brown, flanked by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, walks to a press conference June 16 to announce a budget agreement.
Gov. Jerry Brown, flanked by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, walks to a press conference June 16 to announce a budget agreement.

In May, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber and I gathered reporters for a briefing on the priorities that we and our Democratic colleagues would push for inclusion in the state budget.

We called for increased funding for schools, child care and preschool. We proposed a state Earned Income Tax Credit to help the working poor. And we called for improvements to higher education, financial aid and the middle-class scholarship. We emphasized that these priorities would be subject to negotiation with Gov. Jerry Brown and that it would be unreasonable to expect to get everything we wanted.

Indeed, the budget agreement that Gov. Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and I announced on June 16 significantly mirrors the original priorities outlined by Assembly Democrats. Make no mistake: Assembly Democrats are happy with this budget.

I get it. Reporters like to focus on conflict to raise the drama in their stories, and so they played up the differences between the governor and the Legislature.

But let’s be clear. The final agreement brings us all together in support of a budget that is both prudent and progressive. We build reserves to more than $4.6 billion and pay down debts while also making new investments of $14 billion in our schools and community colleges and more than $1 billion in higher education, health care and anti-poverty programs.

In the end, the budget includes roughly half of the discretionary spending improvements that we proposed over and above what the governor proposed in his May budget revision. That’s how negotiations work, and in this case, the process worked smoothly, quickly and extremely well.

This budget includes the Assembly’s top priority of establishing a state Earned Income Tax Credit that will help more than 2 million Californians. The budget also adds $97 million for the California State University and $25 million for the University of California systems to what the governor had proposed (with UC funding contingent on enrollment of 5,000 new California freshmen).

The budget also provides 3,250 new Cal Grants, establishes a new community college financial-aid grant and expands the middle-class scholarship to reduce UC and CSU fees by 20 percent for those not covered by financial aid.

This budget establishes nearly 14,000 new child care and preschool slots and raises reimbursement rates to providers. The importance of that can’t be overstated; it’s a huge benefit for thousands of working families.

Those are just our top, broad priorities. There were other important budget improvements that we persuaded the governor to agree to, such as $40 million to pay for Medi-Cal for children, regardless of immigration status; $226 million more for In-Home Supportive Services; $15 million more to help CalWORKs clients with housing support; and $15 million more for foster care.

This is the best state budget in many years. It’s prudent and yet makes progressive investments for the future. We got it quickly through the Legislature and negotiations with the governor because our budget committees worked tirelessly and because the Senate and Assembly worked together and spoke convincingly with one voice.

It hasn’t always gone this smoothly, but this time we got it right. The reporters and pundits can amuse themselves by picking winners and losers; in my view, the clear winners are the people of California.

Toni G. Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, is speaker of the Assembly.