Legislative leader says state budget deal is near

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature's Democratic leaders are close to a state budget deal that maintains fiscal balance, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and other lawmakers said Monday ahead of a budget committee vote on many of the outstanding issues.

Steinberg emerged from a meeting with Brown and Assembly Speaker John Perez at the state Capitol and said no significant sticking points remain just days ahead of the budget's legislative deadline.

“It's almost there, but not yet,” he said.

He described the talks as positive and productive, and said he expected no problem hitting the Saturday deadline for the Legislature to send its budget for the coming fiscal year to the governor's office.

“We are well on our way. A few details left,” Steinberg said.

One of the main points of contention had been which revenue estimates to adopt — the one the Democratic governor used in proposing his $96.4 billion revised budget in May or the one from the independent Legislative Analyst's Office, which was $3.2 billion higher.

Lawmakers settled on Brown's more conservative projection, said Sen. Mark Leno, who is co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Conference Committee. He said Democrats and the governor would revisit some of the lawmakers' spending priorities in the new year, when he hoped higher tax revenue would materialize.

“It doesn't close the door on anything,” Leno said of the lower revenue estimates as he opened the committee's hearing Monday.

The committee was expected to meet through the night and vote on key aspects of the budget plan.

Democratic lawmakers want to restore dental care for the poor, welfare assistance and other programs cut during the recession. They also had been negotiating with Brown over his proposal to change the education funding formula.

Lawmakers have until the end of the week for a full vote to finish out their version of California's annual spending plan for the governor to sign.

Unlike in recent years, the budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 contains a surplus. That has emboldened Democrats to try to restore past cuts at the same time Brown is trying to keep a lid on spending.

The governor has resisted using the higher revenue projection, saying it relied too much on volatile capital gains. He also demanded school funding reform and vowed to resist pressure to restore services that were cut or eliminated during the recession.

Brown is pushing for a new K-12 funding formula that would channel additional money to school districts with high levels of low-income and non-English speaking children. Lawmakers, many who represent suburban districts, wanted instead to modify that plan to account for schools with low-income students, even if they attend more affluent districts.

The governor also wants to give school districts more control of how to spend state aid.

Democrats in the Assembly led by Perez, D-Los Angeles, promoted a spending plan that increases welfare assistance, expands child care for the poor and gives more college aid to middle-class families.

Led by Steinberg, the Senate sought to restore dental care for the neediest, expand access to mental health and autism treatments, and foster job training through career technical education in high schools.

Both houses of the Legislature also want to restore some funding for California courts.

Lawmakers need only a simple majority vote to pass a budget. With Democrats controlling both houses, they can do that without Republican support.

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