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Assembly Democrats outline budget plans

BusinessFinancePoliticsBudgets and BudgetingJerry BrownDarrell Steinberg

SACRAMENTO -- With California's finances rebounding, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) sees an opportunity to stash billions of dollars in a rainy day fund and spend more money on social services and educational programs. 

Pérez and Assembly Budget Chair Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) outlined Wednesday a series of proposals focused on reducing poverty, expanding early childhood education programs and boosting financial aid for college students.

Assembly Democrats also want to create a new tax credit for low-income residents and roll back cuts to healthcare providers who participate in the state's Medi-Cal program.

The proposals do not have dollar figures attached to them, and Pérez described them as a starting point for negotiations that will formally begin when Gov. Jerry Brown releases his budget proposal in January. 

"We're really talking about two important concepts -- ensuring ongoing stability and expanding opportunity," Pérez said.

Skinner said investing in programs such as child care would help the state's economy. When funding was cut during the recession, she said, "it prevented some families from being full participants in the workforce if they didn't have places for their children."

The Assembly plan does not address the hefty costs of teacher pensions and retiree healthcare, but Pérez said lawmakers were planning to discuss possible solutions. He's not proposing any tax cuts either.

"We're not in a position where we're so flush that we can be returning money," Pérez said.

Pérez said California's financial situation could be improved if the Legislature and voters approve a potential new ballot measure next year that would strengthen the state's rainy day fund. The plan is to stockpile spikes in tax revenue and save the money for economic downturns, which Pérez said would "bring an end to the spend-and-slash roller coaster budgets we've seen for the last 20 years."

He hopes the ballot measure will help the state reach an $8-billion reserve by 2017.

Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), reacted positively to the Assembly's proposals.

"There is much common ground between us on the approach and priorities that the Assembly Speaker outlined," he said in a statement. "Sen. Steinberg looks forward to working with his colleagues in the Senate, the Assembly, and with Gov. Brown to enact another balanced and on-time budget."

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Twitter: @chrismegerian

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