Democrats, governor debate California budget total

As budget talks enter the final week, Democratic state lawmakers are pushing Gov. Jerry Brown to accept higher revenue projections in order to restore social services.

A key disagreement has emerged over the size of the 2014-15 spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lawmakers face a June 15 deadline set by the state constitution to pass a balanced budget.

Brown's administration is using a more conservative revenue estimate for a $107.8 billion general fund and warns against paying for new programs with temporary increases in tax revenue. Lawmakers want to use figures from the Legislative Analyst's Office, which predicts the state will collect $2.5 billion more.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said the administration believes those revenues are “questionable, given what we are seeing in the economy.”

State leaders are dealing with surplus revenues for the upcoming budget after years of multibillion-dollar budget cuts to social welfare and other state programs. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, on Monday downplayed the effect of differences in revenue projections on efforts “expanding opportunities” in education, housing and infrastructure spending.

“We feel pretty good about the expenditures we are talking about falling within the conservative projection. But we have to be careful, and we will be,” she told reporters.

Both sides have agreed to a rainy day fund and paying down liabilities for teachers' pensions. But lawmakers want to undo some of the recession-era cuts to health and welfare benefits by relying on rosier revenue projections in their proposals. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has pushed for a $378 million preschool program for children of low-income families.

Steinberg scaled down his original plan for universal transitional kindergarten for four year-olds, which the governor addressed with skepticism.

“The truth is there are many good ideas in health care, in schooling, environment, in prison reform, in court expansion. But we only have so much money,” Brown said at a news conference last month. “We do live within the revenues given until more money is provided by new taxes.”

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