Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers are trying to work out the final details of a budget for the coming fiscal year that largely adheres to the governor's call for fiscal prudence while providing a modest boost to social and education programs.
Brown wants to dedicate much of the state's budget surplus to a beefed-up rainy day fund and paying down state debts. But his fellow Democrats in the Legislature are pushing him to restore cuts to welfare, health care, child care and education.
Legislative floor votes on the main budget bill for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which starts July 1, are expected Sunday, the constitutional deadline for lawmakers to pass a balanced spending plan and avoid forfeiting their pay.
“We try to balance many objectives: fiscal balance, a healthy reserve, pay down debt and make some key investments in education, health and human services and other priorities,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in an interview Wednesday. “To find that sweet spot is always hard.”
Brown has succeeded so far at fending off major spending proposals from members of his own party. The Legislature's joint budget committee announced a plan late Wednesday to include $264 million for expanding early education programs for 4-year-olds, an amount far below what Democrats originally sought.
That would pay for an additional 11,500 preschool slots for low-income families by June 2015, with an additional 31,500 slots planned in the future. Additional funding would be provided in the form of grants to existing preschool programs, increased child-care reimbursement rates and professional training.
Combined with existing programs, the proposal would provide early education assistance to roughly 234,000 children, covering half of all 4-year-olds in the state. Even so, it falls well short of Steinberg's original goal of spending $1 billion to provide preschool to all California children.
Democratic lawmakers had also sought more money for higher education than Brown had proposed. Under a compromise, the University of California and California State University systems will receive an additional $50 million each if property taxes come in higher than projections.
It remained unclear Thursday just how much more money would be allocated for other Democratic priorities, including in-home care for seniors and the disabled, welfare and Medi-Cal, the state's health insurance program for the poor.
Democrats did secure flexibility in prison funding to spend tens of millions of dollars more on mental health services as a way to improve treatment and increase rehabilitation options.
The governor proposed a record $107.8 billion in spending from the general fund using more conservative revenue projections. Democrats, who control the Senate and Assembly, had wanted to use rosier estimates to restore services for the poor that were reduced during the recession, as California struggled to close multibillion-dollar budget shortfalls.