Legislature approves revised budget, sends it to Gov. Jerry Brown

Legislature approves revised budget, sends it to Gov. Jerry Brown
Gov. Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), left, and Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), right, announce a budget deal on Tuesday in the Capitol. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California lawmakers passed a new budget Friday that would increase spending on government services for the poor and make a range of policy changes intended to address the drought and improve police accountability.

The changes would allow faster construction of water recycling projects, increase fines for water wasters and empower the state to force failing water agencies to consolidate. It would also create a pilot program to equip California Highway Patrol officers with body cameras.

The budget, which includes total state spending of $167.6 billion, now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature before it takes effect on July 1.

Although Brown could veto items he doesn’t like, the spending plan is the product of negotiations between the governor and top Democratic lawmakers, and it modifies a blueprint approved by the Legislature on Monday.

The earlier plan included $2.2 billion more spending than Brown wanted, and the revised budget hews much closer to the framework he outlined in his original proposal.

However, some adjustments were made in the $115.4-billion general fund to free up additional money sought by Democratic lawmakers for child care, dental care and state universities. The budget also would fund public healthcare for immigrant children who are in the country illegally.

“There is much to be proud of,” said Senate Budget Chairman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). “Yes, there is much to be disappointed about as well. But that is the process.”

The budget was opposed by almost all Republicans in the Assembly, but there was more bipartisan support in the Senate.

“I think we have made a step here for a responsible budget,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber).

Some of the strongest criticism came from Democrats, who wanted more funding for government services and chafed at the spending limits forced by Brown.

“We have a final budget that’s a crime,” said Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose).

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) withheld her vote, the only Democrat to do so.

“It continues to ignore the most vulnerable in our state,” she said. “We continue to say next year, next year, next year. I’m not sure the next year will come.”

More issues involving funding for transportation and public healthcare need to be worked out in special legislative sessions called by Brown. Democratic lawmakers said they planned to seek additional funding for programs for the developmentally disabled.

“Our realities are you can’t always get what you want or need given the limited resources that we have,” said Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

Besides the budget itself, a range of related bills also were passed on Friday. The legislation included proposals involving the drought, such as new fines for water wasters. The first penalty is capped at $1,000, lower than Brown originally wanted, but could eventually rise as high as $10,000.

One of the most hotly debated issues involved the proposal to allow the state to force the consolidation of certain water agencies.

Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen of Modesto called it a “horrible bill.” Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) described the proposal as “nothing more than a state coup on water districts.”

Democrats said the bill is necessary to help state officials step in when disadvantaged communities suffer a chronic lack of drinking water.

“This is very, very limited,” said Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica).

Another budget-related bill asks the California Highway Patrol to develop a pilot program for officers to wear body cameras.

“This technology is so new that I think some departments want to implement it, see how it works and based on that experience and that evidence, we’re able to have a more informed policy discussion on what should be a statewide standard,” said Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville).

Nielsen opposed the body camera bill, saying it requires more study.

“We're going to lose officers because of that moment of hesitation because they are worried about the cameras,” he said.

Follow @chrismegerian for more updates from Sacramento.

Times staff writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.