CA Dems pass budget, forcing talks with Brown

budget financeChallenging their own governor for budget supremacy, California Democrats passed an ambitious state budget with just hours to spare before the deadline.

Dueling Democrats

“California lawmakers on Monday approved a budget with $2.2 billion more in spending than proposed by Democrat Jerry Brown,” Business Insider noted, “the latest move by progressives to nudge the fiscally moderate governor to the left amid improvement in the state’s economy.”

“The general fund spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 cleared the Senate 26-13 and passed the Assembly 52-28,” the San Jose Mercury News reported. “But Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet signed off on the deal, setting up the possibility of a nasty fight over a tiny fraction of the budget.”

What is small in relative terms, however, may be sizable in absolute numbers. Party leaders sought to spend $750 million beyond Brown’s budget on reducing the debt, plus nearly $1.5 billion in social services funding that Brown refused to restore to his $115 billion annual budget. Democrats justified the increases by estimating about $3 billion more in anticipated revenues than Brown and the Republicans expect, according to the Mercury News.

Heated rhetoric

For their part, Republicans did not miss their opportunity to take advantage of the disagreement between Brown and members of his own party. “Legislative Republicans were united in their opposition and called Monday’s vote a ploy to make sure lawmakers don’t miss a paycheck,” noted the Orange County Register. “Under state law, legislators had until midnight to pass a balanced budget or they would have had to forfeit pay.”

Given Gov. Brown’s continued resistance to Democrats’ expanded budgetary plans, some GOP lawmakers characterized the vote as a charade. “Is this a real budget we’re voting on today? Or is this just a sham budget?” asked state Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, the Register reported.

Despite the heated rhetoric, Republicans were careful to underscore how much common ground they maintained with the governor. “Again and again and again, we found ourselves as Republicans agreeing with the governor, and the governor agreeing with us,” remarked state Sen. Jim Neilsen, R-Gerber, according to the Mercury News. But Brown’s office made clear that a deal with legislative Democrats was expected within a matter of days, according to Business Insider:

“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.”

New and bigger programs

When negotiations have finished, Brown and Democrats will have argued their way through several multi-million-dollar initiatives meant to increase entitlements and restore public funding pared back in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Under the new budget legislation, for instance, health care spending would rise by $40 million for unlawfully present children and $82 million for higher Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, as the Sacramento Bee reported. Other hikes, according to the Bee, include $261 million to expand childcare and preschool, $228 million to compensate in-home caretakers, and over $100 million “to eliminate a maximum state welfare award meant to discourage low-income women from having additional children.”

Despite the relatively modest difference between these sums and his intended spending levels, Brown signaled through staff that his concern centered around their recurring costs amid continued economic uncertainty. “Deputy finance director Keely Bosler repeated Gov. Jerry Brown’s concern that lawmakers are setting spending levels too high by assuming the state will collect billions more in taxes than Brown has estimated,” recounted the Associated Press. “Boosting social programs for the poor, she said, would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars each year, making it harder for the state to weather the next economic downturn.”

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