| SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 12
SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 12 California lawmakers
on Thursday worked furiously to put the finishing touches on a
budget for the most populous U.S. state expected to top $156
billion and include increases in funding for education,
transportation and paying down debts.
Facing a budget deadline of Sunday night, members of the
state legislature worked behind the scenes to cement last-minute
spending deals, putting off meetings to vote on budget items
until late in the afternoon, said Will Shuck, a spokesman for
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins.
"There are still conversations to be had," Shuck said.
The improved economy and fiscal restraint tightly enforced
by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown leaves California facing the
next fiscal year in its best financial shape in years, but also
led to disagreements between Brown and legislative leaders over
how much to spend bolstering the state's tattered safety net.
Among items likely to be included in the plan sent to the
governor over the weekend are a measure providing free
pre-kindergarten classes to low-income four-year-olds and an
increase in spending on vocational education, both pushed by
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
"We can no longer afford a one-size-fits-all education
system," Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said after a
budget committee passed his vocational education measure. "We
can no longer afford to separate academics from how they apply
to the real world."
Steinberg, who is leaving the legislature at the end of this
year, has made the pre-school program a cornerstone of his final
term. Brown opposed additional spending for the idea at first,
but Steinberg scaled it down considerably in hopes of gaining
support from the governor, who has the power to veto individual
budget items when considering the legislature's plan.
Also under consideration was a plan to use funds from the
state's system of allowing companies to trade or sell their
rights to emit carbon pollution to help pay for a high-speed
rail project linking the northern and southern parts of the
A proposal to increase funding for the California State
University System by about $100 million over what Brown had
proposed failed in a late-night committee session on Wednesday,
however, and will not be included in the final package.
"By not properly funding higher education, we are
undermining our future," said Republican assembly member Jeff
Gorrell, whose district near Los Angeles includes a CSU campus.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Grant McCool)