California Legislature approves compromise $115.4B budget

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, sits quietly at her desk as the vote is taken for a revised budget plan before the Senate at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, June 19, 2015. Mitchell, who was critical of the plan, saying it short changes the poor and disabled, failed to cast a vote as the measure was approved by by the Senate on a 30-9 vote. Both houses of the Legislature approved the revised budget and sent it to the governor.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California lawmakers on Friday passed a compromise budget to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s demands for restrained spending, even as the package sends billions more to public schools and increases spending on health care and social services.

The Assembly approved the revised $115.4 billion budget for the fiscal year starting next month with a 53-26 vote, followed by the Senate on a bipartisan 30-9 vote.

“We’re not done by a long shot but this is a budget that we feel pretty good about,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said after the vote. “We got more done in this budget than we have gotten done in the last decade for income inequality and for poor Californians.”

Democrats who control both houses had sought more money for social welfare programs and approved a plan Monday with $2 billion in higher spending. But Brown, a Democrat, held firm against expanding many services, relying on a lower projection for state revenues.

The budget now heads to the governor, who is expected to approve it.

Brown allowed Democratic legislative leaders to keep some of their priority programs such as boosting the number of state-subsidized child care slots, giving in-home support workers a raise, and expanding state-subsidized health care coverage to children from low-income families who are in the country illegally.

The governor said the state will pay for those initiatives but still limit state spending next year by finding savings in other programs, including fixing an accounting error in health spending.

Brown also has called two special sessions to address how California pays for roads, highways and other infrastructure, and Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for the poor.

Republicans said they supported the lower overall budget figure and some voted for the compromise plan. Other GOP members pointed to the shortcomings of the spending plan.

“The majority party has passed two budgets in two days that fail to address California’s priorities — water, education and transportation infrastructure,” said Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank.

Democrats weren’t completely satisfied either. Some said the revised budget doesn’t do enough to help poor and disabled people.

The spending plan leaves in place a cap on welfare payments for low-income women who have more children, and it left out extra support the Legislature had approved for transportation, job coaching and housing for people with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

“It appears to me that poor people in California and their children continue to be on the losing end of that equation,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who abstained from voting on the budget changes.

The new budget allocates billions more for schools — from kindergarten through community college — and channels additional money to schools with high levels of poor children and English-language learners.

Public colleges and universities also will get more support.

In addition, California will add thousands of state-subsidized child care and preschool slots while increasing pay for teachers and caretakers in those programs.

To provide some relief to the poor, the state will establish an earned income tax credit that would help up to 2 million Californians. The state also will adopt an amnesty program for residents who can’t afford to pay off spiraling court fines and traffic penalties that have resulted in 4.8 million driver’s license suspensions since 2006.

There is also $40 million to begin extending health coverage to children from poor families who are in the country illegally. The amount will increase to $132 million annually once fully implemented.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said Republicans would have preferred to use that money to improve access for more than 12 million existing Medi-Cal patients by increasing payments to doctors and providers who care for the poor.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, responded by saying health coverage for poor immigrant children would save the state money by getting them preventative care rather than having taxpayers foot expensive emergency room bills.

One companion budget bill changes state water law in response to the drought.

The most controversial provision allows state regulators to consolidate water agencies to help rural communities that are running out of water. Local governments argue that could create unintended costs for agencies and their customers.

It also loosens California’s strict environmental review for some recycling water projects including a planned plant in Silicon Valley — a weakened version of a more sweeping proposal that environmentalists opposed.

In Other News