(Corrects district of Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, paragraph
By Sharon Bernstein
LOS ANGELES, June 14 California lawmakers passed
a $96.3 billion budget on Friday that would spend more on
education, health care and other services while setting aside
$1.1 billion for the state's first rainy day fund in years.
The spending plan makes changes to the way the state funds
education, increasing the base amount spent on all students
while funneling more money to districts with children who live
in poverty or who do not speak fluent English.
It also restores funds that had been cut from dental
programs for the poor, mental health services and assistance for
The $1.1 billion reserve was part of a deal negotiated with
Governor Jerry Brown, who pressed fiscal restraint on the
Democratic legislature. It marks a dramatic turnaround from four
years ago, when the state was in the red by $16 billion.
"This was the first year in many that we weren't negotiating
how deep to cut and what to cut," Darrell Steinberg, president
pro tem of the state senate, said in an interview. "Instead, we
were negotiating about restorations, and I think the biggest
debate was how fast and how much."
After some arm-twisting from fellow Democrat Brown,
including a threat to veto excessive spending measures, the
lawmakers refrained from spending all of the money that the
improved economy and a voter-approved tax increase provided.
Under the budget, due to take effect on July 1, California
will spend $55.3 billion in state money on education, and repay
$2.3 billion in debt. The state will also hand out about $1
million in so-called middle class scholarships for students in
its public universities.
The budget, passed along party lines, must still be signed
by Brown, and a spokesman said he might exercise his line-item
veto on some provisions.
The 2013-2014 budget wrangling marked the first time in
years that one party - the Democrats - held a two-thirds
majority in both houses, along with the governorship. California
Republicans complained that their voices had not been given
sufficient weight as the budget was crafted.
"To not even be involved in the process of the budget, to
not even know what's in it I have a problem with that," said
Republican state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, who represents the
Southern California community of Carlsbad.
Republican state Senator Jim Nielsen, who represents a
mostly rural district in the northern part of the state, said
Democrats spent too much despite efforts at restraint.
"We have not gotten control of the out-of-control agencies
and their spending," he said during debate on the measure.
Democratic assembly member Nancy Skinner, who represents
Berkeley and other communities east of San Francisco, said Brown
pushed hard to hold down spending - to the frustration of some
in his own party.
"Many of us felt in the legislature a little more spending
on a couple of areas that really had devastating cuts might have
been justified," Skinner said.
In the end, Brown agreed to an additional $200 million in
spending over an earlier proposal, Skinner said, which the
legislature allocated to mental health, veteran services, the
middle class scholarships, dental care and a few other areas.
The budget's biggest impact will be on public schools. Under
a new formula backed by Brown and education reform advocates,
the state will pay school districts extra money to educate
children who live in poverty or do not speak English fluently.
In a compromise, Brown backed off on a version that would
have provided some school districts less money than they would
have received under the state's old system for allocating funds.
The new system would also transfer control over the money to
local school districts - a change strongly supported by some
school reform advocates.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston,
Toni Reinhold and Dan Grebler)