(Corrects second paragraph to show that some additional spending is also for education and other programs)
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 15 (Reuters) - California lawmakers on Monday approved a budget with $2.2 billion more in spending than proposed by Democrat Jerry Brown, the latest move by progressives to nudge the fiscally moderate governor to the left amid improvement in the state’s economy.
The legislature’s budget plan, which calls for $117.5 billion in general fund spending, includes $750 million more than Brown proposed to pay down debt, along with $1.4 billion more in funding for education, social services and other programs, some of them cut during the economic downturn that accompanied the recession of 2008.
The budget “continues to keep the Golden State on the path of fiscal security while also making prudent reinvestments in the people of California who have been challenged the most since the 2008 global crisis,” said Democratic Senator Mark Leno, who represents San Francisco.
Brown, however, has not yet signed on to the plan. In the first year of a historic fourth term at the helm of the most populous U.S. state, Brown has consistently pressured his party’s progressive wing to hold down spending and he remains opposed to elements of the budget plan.
Negotiations over the next few days are likely to include spending on higher education, subsidized child care and the restoration of social programs.
H.D. Palmer, the governor’s spokesman on budget and finance issues, said the administration was optimistic that an agreement would be reached soon.
“Productive discussions with the legislature on the state budget have continued throughout the weekend and into today,” Palmer said.
Last month, Brown proposed spending $115.3 billion from the state’s general fund, a modest increase over the amount he called for in January.
Brown, who was governor for two terms from 1975 to 1983 before returning to the state’s helm in 2011, took over a state government that was deeply in debt, its budget severely unbalanced.
He tamped down spending, persuaded voters to approve a temporary tax increase and pushed successfully for a rainy-day fund to be incorporated into the state’s constitution.
But recent changes in the leadership of state Democrats, who dominate California politics, have led to stronger pushback against Brown’s tightfisted policies.
Republicans criticized the budget plan, saying Democrats only passed it because of a state law denying lawmakers their salaries if a budget is not passed by June 15.
“Ruling Democrats are rushing to pass a budget bill to ensure they collect their paychecks,” the Senate Republican caucus said in a news release.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Eric Beech