Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said Wednesday that she has a "clear mandate" from Assembly Democrats to seek a budget deal that "strengthens our fiscal condition first, and makes responsible investments second."
In a speech to the Sacramento Press Club, Atkins said the biggest issue on her plate was the budget, particularly because she was sworn in as speaker just before Gov. Jerry Brown released his revised spending proposal last week, which kicked the budget-crafting negotiations into high gear.
Atkins said there was much that Brown and Democrats in the Assembly and Senate already agree on, but acknowledged there were points of "healthy tension" to be hashed out in coming weeks.
Those disputes are "a small percentage of the budget but in areas with potential to have big impact on the lives of the people of California," Atkins said.
As an example, she praised a plan by Brown put in place last year that changes how money is distributed to K-12 schools, with more funds being directed to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"No matter how much money we send to schools, impoverished and hungry kids will not learn to their potential," Atkins said. "So I think the governor will need to work with us to reduce child poverty."
She called for additional "limited smart new investments" in expanding healthcare access and services for the aging and disabled, improving early childhood education, increasing access to higher education and supporting infrastructure and transportation projects.
Other key priorities, she said, are building the state's reserves, paying down debt and tackling the unfunded liabilities facing CalSTRS, the pension fund for California teachers.
Atkins was cool on the prospect of new taxes, such as a tax on oil pumped from the ground, which is currently being debated in the Senate.
Noting that Prop. 30, approved by voters in 2012, provided a new infusion of tax revenue, Atkins said "we need to use those dollars responsibly before we talk about new taxes and new fees."