Lawmakers air differences in budget debate in Capitol

Lawmakers air differences in budget debate in Capitol
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) questioned whether dental care would be the best use of an additional $66.7 million in public spending. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Lawmakers began hashing out the final version of California's budget on Monday, and they were careful to downplay any disagreements over spending. After all, the debate is centered around just 2% of the general fund.

Nonetheless, it was clear during the first hearing of the joint budget committee that significant differences remain between Democrats in the Senate and the Assembly.

Leaders in both houses want to spend more than Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed, but they have different ideas for how to use the money. In general, legislative analysts said, senators have prioritized public healthcare, and Assembly members have focused on child care and other social services.

For example, senators want $66.7 million to restore spending on dental care for low-income residents, which was cut during the recession.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) expressed skepticism about whether that should be a priority for lawmakers, saying, "It's a question of resources."

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) replied by saying he'll surely have similar concerns about Assembly proposals.

He said just that later in the hearing, questioning an Assembly plan to completely reverse cuts in payments to doctors who participate in the state's Medi-Cal plan. The proposal could cost more than $200 million annually.

Few final decisions were made during Monday's hearing, and lawmakers continue to negotiate among themselves and with the governor behind the scenes.

Follow @chrismegerian for more updates from Sacramento.