(Adds final amount of budget, comment from governor)
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 13 California will
spend $250 million on a controversial high-speed rail project,
fund preschool for low-income children and pay down debts under
a budget deal that is likely to be approved this weekend,
lawmakers said on Friday.
The $156.4 billion proposal, approved by a conference
committee but still subject to negotiation before a budget
deadline on Sunday, marks a compromise with Democratic Governor
Jerry Brown. The governor has demanded fiscal restraint from
progressive Democrats who wanted to restore spending on social
programs cut during the recession.
"The overall architecture of the governor's proposal remains
intact," Brown spokesman H.D. Palmer said. "Over two fiscal
years, we're going to pay down $2 billion in debt and make the
first deposit into the rainy-day fund in seven years."
California faces the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July
1, in good financial shape, thanks to new taxes approved by
voters and the resurgent economy. When Brown took over in 2011
after serving two terms from 1975 to 1983, the state faced an
18-month budget gap of $25 billion.
Widely credited with restoring the state to sound financial
footing, Brown held lawmakers to conservative estimates of the
state's future income, insisting on enshrining a rainy-day fund
in the state constitution and paying down a so-called "wall of
debt" built up over years of deficit spending.
Barring last-minute arm-twisting on Friday, the budget
scheduled to be passed by lawmakers on Sunday will encompass
Brown's initial plan for $76 billion in education spending,
along with additional programs negotiated by lawmakers.
It must still be signed into law by Brown, who last year
used his line-item veto to kill some measures. On Friday, he
praised the legislature for "a solid and sustainable budget"
barely bigger than the $156.2 billion he had proposed in May.
Brown's controversial high-speed rail project, a $68 billion
effort opposed by Republicans, will receive $250 million in
funding from the proceeds of the state's cap-and-trade program,
under which the state collects a fee after polluters buy and
sell their rights to emit carbon into the air.
As part of a compromise with Brown, lawmakers negotiated
additional commitments for cap-and-trade funds, including money
for affordable housing, mass transit and clean energy projects.
"This budget proves once again that negotiation and
cooperation can achieve a great outcome," said Democratic Senate
leader Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, who was involved in
several of the compromises.
His priority, an expansion of public prekindergarten for
4-year-olds, was approved in a scaled-back form by the
conference committee on Thursday and is expected to remain in
the budget despite initial opposition from Brown.
Other additions by lawmakers include a requirement that $1
billion of education funds be used for specific purposes,
including implementing national Common Core curriculum
standards, vocational education and assistance for school
districts with a high percentage of disadvantaged students, said
Assembly member Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Richard Chang)