Will Democrats in Legislature pressure Gov. Brown to increase state spending?

Will progressive lawmakers challenge Gov. Jerry Brown over his decision to dash their big dreams for the 2017-18 fiscal year? Or will they acquiesce as they mostly have in recent months of May after Brown released revised budgets without money for new or expanded government programs?

Despite the pleas of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, and Senate President Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, that he take a break from his usual frugality, the governor’s revised 2017-18 $124 billion general fund budget released last week is far more concerned about helping public schools and beefing up the state’s rainy-day fund than any new liberal cause.

With a month until the June 15 deadline to adopt a state budget, that means Democratic lawmakers – especially those from liberal districts in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County – have a big decision to make: Do they accept a wipeout? Or do they put pressure on Brown by sending him bills popular with Trump-agitated grass-roots Democrats and making him veto them?

This is the dynamic created by the fact that Democratic legislative leaders entered the current session in January with ambitious hopes for bold new programs making college much cheaper, expanding state affordable housing efforts and providing health care for all.

Ambitious legislation not taken seriously

The governor doesn’t even think the ideas are worth discussing.

Brown’s budget rejects the basics of Assembly Bill 1356, by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, which would have added a 1 percent surtax on California families earning $1 million or more to cover the cost of fees and tuition for in-state students at the University of California, California State University and the California Community College system. The governor also dismissed without comment Assembly Democrats’ push to help cover basic living expenses for 350,000-plus UC and CSU students from families which make less than $150,000 a year.

Brown’s budget makes no mention of SB562, a bill by Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, that would create a government-run single-payer health care system. It’s won some early committee victories, despite not having a fiscal analysis that explains how or who will pay for the program.

And a push supported by dozens of Democratic lawmakers to impose a fee on real-estate transactions to provide a steady stream of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funding for subsidized affordable housing projects was flatly rejected by Brown as inadequate to addressing California’s housing crisis.

At a Thursday press conference, the governor said, “I don’t think we should throw money at the housing problem if we don’t adopt real changes that make housing production more efficient and less costly. We’ve got to do that first.”

For nearly two years, the governor has pushed for laws reforming the California Environmental Quality Act to give builders fewer obstacles to constructing new housing units. But legislative Democrats have heeded their union, trial lawyer and environmental allies who say CEQA shouldn’t be weakened.

Brown and top Democratic lawmakers pulled off a big win last month on an issue they agreed on: the urgent need to improve California’s decaying infrastructure, both for quality-of-life reasons and to help the economy by reducing the drag on the economy caused by bad, clogged roads. They pushed through gas tax hikes to pay for a 10-year, $52 billion infrastructure improvement and repair initiative.

But Brown’s pragmatism about government spending has been the calling card of his second stint as governor. Given his high approval ratings, the governor seems unlikely to believe he needs to make concessions if Democratic lawmakers send him spending bills he doesn’t like.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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