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Jerry Brown unveils California budget blueprint at news conference

FinanceBusinessJerry BrownPoliticsEducationBudgets and Budgeting

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday detailed his plans to continue nursing California back to financial health, emphasizing the need to carefully guard the surplus revenue generated by the recovering economy.

The governor, during a Thursday morning press conference at the Capitol, said he wants to repay $11 billion of the state's debt and stash $1.6 billion in a reserve fund.

"For this year, there's very good news. Good news in the fiscal stability and resources available for the state of California,'' Brown said, "but also cautionary warnings that, by no means, are we out of the wilderness."

Brown views the extra money as an opportunity to catch up on some of the state's other outstanding obligations, which include chipping in $815 million for overdue maintenance at parks, schools, roads and other public facilities.

Brown's spending blueprint also proposes new funding for schools, universities, environmental initiatives and programs for California's poor.

"We're putting $10 billion into the schools of California after years of drought and cutbacks and pink slips for teachers,'' Brown said. "In addition to that we're expanding healthcare for millions of Californians and we're protecting public safety," in part, by providing more prison beds and spending more money on rehabilitation programs.

The $155-billion budget proposal would increase general fund spending by more than 8%, to $106.8 billion.

The press conference was held a day ahead of schedule because a leaked copy of the budget began circulating in Sacramento on Wednesday night. Brown will head to San Diego and Los Angeles for additional press conferences on Thursday to discuss the budget.

Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare praised Brown for appearing to address the state’s massive debt, but in a statement released Thursday morning expressed skepticism that the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature would support his proposals.

“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. We’ve been down this road before and I’d strongly caution my legislative friends across the aisle from traveling it again,’’ Conway said.

Brown defended a proposal in the budget to tap into the $850 million generated by new fees on polluters to help finance the troubled statewide high-speed rail project. Brown says the so-called bullet train will help California "pull together to form a greater community" and reduce greenhouse gases over time.

In his budget document, Brown highlighted the massive pension liabilities that threaten the state's fiscal well-being. Retirement benefits for public employees are underfunded by $218 billion, according to administration estimates, and the state has billions of dollars in other outstanding obligations and debts.

In particular, the account dedicated to teachers' pensions is short $80.4 billion. Instead of filling that hole, Brown called for "a new funding strategy" to force teachers, school districts and the state to
chip in more down the line.

Brown on Thursday said there will be progress on teacher pension funds once people see the "disaster ahead."

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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Twitter: @chrismegerian

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