The California Legislature is planning to vote Thursday on the budget deal Democratic leaders reached last week with Gov. Jerry Brown.
The agreement would increase state funding for the UC and CSU systems, child care, and welfare grants.
But it’s drawn fierce criticism from health care advocates who hoped to win money to expand Medi-Cal to some adult immigrants living in California illegally, and to improve affordability for Californians on the state’s health care exchange.
“Zero investment on an equitable healthcare solution is an irresponsible response!” said Community Health Councils CEO Veronica Flores in a statement last week after the terms of the deal were released.
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) says the spending plan would make major new investments in several different areas.
“We feel like we’ve gotten a lot in this budget that’s significant to move the ball forward,” Atkins told Capital Public Radio Wednesday. “Did we do everything? No, it’s just not possible. But when you look at what we are trying to do to deal with issues of poverty, education access — I think we feel pretty good.”
Republicans, meanwhile, find themselves in a familiar position: mixing praise with criticism for a deal in which they played no part.
Assembly Budget Committee vice-chairperson Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake) says he’s glad the spending plan puts billions of dollars into reserves.
But he’s concerned that the budget proposal would raise state spending 9 percent “in an era where inflation in the state of California is around 3 percent and population growth is less than 1 percent.”
“We’re increasing state spending by three times the rate of inflation. That’s clearly not sustainable,” Obernolte said.
The agreement also includes more than two dozen other measures that implement the budget — known as trailer bills.
One of the biggest pieces of the budget deal was $500 million in emergency aid to local governments and nonprofit organizations to address California’s homelessness crisis. But the trailer bill that would govern that money gives the state seven months — until the end of next January — to award it.
Atkins said the money is crucial, and there’s good reason for that lag.
“I think we need to be sure that the money’s going to be targeted and go where we need it — you want us to be fast, but you want us to be using taxpayer dollars appropriately and that we’re getting that money to where it needs to go,” she said.
Other noteworthy provisions in all that fine print include bills that would:
- place a measure on the November ballot asking voters to green-light a $2 billion program to combat homelessness through mental health funding. It was approved by the governor and Legislature in the 2016 budget package but is currently frozen in court.
- exempt, until July 2020, local governments and school boards from having to list how much money would be raised by bond measures, and how big — and how long — the tax to pay for the bond would be. The locals and school officials that back this provision argue that a law passed last year that created this requirement is challenging to comply with and poses transparency issues.
- make permanent a 2014 law that prohibited schools from expelling students in any grade — and suspending students in kindergarten through third grade — for “willful defiance.” That law would have sunset on July 1.
- open up a new opportunity for victims of the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer to file claims with the California Victim Compensation Board. Under current law, the statute of limitations for victims of the crimes in the 1970s and ’80s to file claims expired long ago. This proposal would give them until the end of 2019, and offer the right to file a claim to both victims and derivative victims suffering from emotional harm or financial loss — including from preparing to testify.
- ratify a 5 percent raise the governor negotiated with the state prison guards union that’s drawn criticism from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which argues the Brown administration provided a “weak justification” for the pay bump.
- extend carpool lane permits for low- and zero-emission vehicles until Jan. 1, 2022.
- set aside $630 million for the state to tear down and rebuild the Capitol Annex, the eastern half of the Capitol building that is widely acknowledged to have health and safety issues that affect staff and visitors. However, construction would likely not begin for several years.
- appropriate more than $420 million for a new state office building just blocks from the Capitol, which would temporarily house the Legislature during the Capitol Annex project and after that be occupied by a mix of executive and legislative branch staff.
- open up the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to all adult citizens (previously, it was only available for those between 25-65 years old). An effort backed by legislative Democrats to expand eligibility for the EITC to working immigrants living in California illegally failed to make it into the final budget deal.
- appropriate $460 million to build a new 17-story Sacramento County courthouse in the Railyards district just north of downtown.
- set aside $100 million to build a California Indian Heritage Center in West Sacramento, as part of the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
- exempt records that the governor’s Department of Finance obtains during an audit from the California Public Records Act. The same bill allows the department to issue subpoenas for witnesses and records and require oral or written sworn statements and makes it a crime to interfere with a department audit such as by altering records.