Democratic leaders in the state Legislature on Thursday praised Gov. Jerry Brown’s $155-billion budget proposal for increasing funding for education and social safety net programs while still attacking California’s massive debt, while Republicans in the minority expressed skepticism that the Democratic supermajority will heed the governor’s call for fiscal restraint.
Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) lauded Brown for embracing the idea of a rainy day fund to preserve surplus revenue when the economy is strong, saying the reserve fund will help lawmakers avoid a repeat of the painful budget cuts during the recent economic downtown.
“With a strong rainy day fund in place we can avoid mistakes of the past and ensure that education and other vital services in California are protected from the volatility of boom-and-bust cycles,’’ Perez said.
Democratic lawmakers who found past years’ cuts to social service programs painful, welcomed the governor’s budget.
"I commend Gov. Brown on beginning to address the worst of the damage, to restore reductions in funding in critical areas, and repay funds borrowed from transportation and education,” said state Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa). “For the first time in 10 years, I feel confident California will regain its luster as the Golden State.”
Senate Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett (D-San Leandro) was particularly pleased with the budget’s help to education.
She called the spending plan a”forward-looking budget that further strengthens California’s strong education system, including K-12, community colleges, California State University and the University of
Assembly Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals) said the governor “struck the right tone” with his call for fiscal discipline but criticized Brown for proposing to use a portion of the $850 million generated by new fees on polluters to help finance the troubled statewide high-speed rail project.
“I fear this is setting the stage to ultimately saddle our children and grandchildren with tens of billions of dollars in unfunded high-speed rail costs, which is unconscionable,’’ Bigelow said.
Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare cautioned that, despite Brown’s call for fiscal restraint, the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature may push to spend extra revenue.
“I hope that Gov. Brown is successful in convincing his fellow Democrats to resist the urge to spend away any fiscal progress the state has made,’’ Conway said. “We’ve been down this road before and I’d strongly caution my legislative friends across the aisle from traveling it again.’’
The governor told reporters Thursday that he wants to use extra tax revenue from the rebounding economy to repay $11 billion of the state's debt and stash $1.6 billion in a reserve fund. Brown also wants to use the extra money for schools, universities, environmental initiatives and programs for California's poor.
Brown will head to San Diego and Los Angeles for additional press conferences Thursday to discuss the budget.
The governor will negotiate with lawmakers on the budget until June 15, when a spending plan must be passed by the Legislature. The new budget will go into effect on July 1.
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