CALIFORNIA POLITICS

Brown, Democratic lawmakers divided on budget estimates

Lawmakers assume the state will collect more revenue than Gov. Jerry Brown estimates

Two weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown released his revised budget proposal, Democratic lawmakers are pushing their own spending plans that include hundreds of millions of dollars more for child care, healthcare and the state's rainy-day fund.

The fatter budgets outlined by Assembly and Senate leaders seize on alternative estimates from legislative analysts that the state will receive $3.2 billion more revenue than the Brown administration projects.

Revenue estimates have been a fault line between Brown and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature. In recent years, lawmakers have routinely urged the governor to use higher figures to allow for more spending to aid the poor.

Two separate budget plans were detailed in reports released Tuesday. The Senate Budget Committee approved one version Friday; its Assembly counterpart is scheduled to advance the other Wednesday.

All three blueprints — the governor's, the Senate's and the Assembly's — must be distilled into a final budget by June 15.

Brown has said he would not accept more spending than he included in his latest budget proposal, which is a third larger than the first one he signed after taking office in 2011.

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Brown's Department of Finance, said the strong economy that has boosted revenue won't last forever.

"Things can turn on a dime," he said. "We can, and have seen, dramatic turnarounds in a very short period of time."

Spending on child care is one of the biggest differences between the various budget plans. Although Brown has proposed more funding than last year, lawmakers still want more, saying a lack of adequate child care makes it harder for parents to hold jobs.

The Assembly's plan would provide money for the care of an additional 20,500 children, as well as other enhancements, for $605 million. The Senate is asking for $330 million for 17,500 additional children.

Both approaches are expected to be hotly debated in the Capitol because they would tap funds set aside for education by the state's school funding law. Organizations like the powerful teachers unions oppose sharing the money with early childhood programs.

Lawmakers would also pump more money into public healthcare. The Assembly's plan would phase out a 10% cut in payments to doctors who serve Medi-Cal patients, while the Senate would provide more limited funding for dental services.

The budget plans detailed Tuesday include more than just additional spending.

Because lawmakers assume the state will collect more revenue than the governor supposes, they also expect a larger deposit in the state's rainy-day fund. Under their proposals, the state would have $4.2 billion stashed away by next year, up from Brown's estimate of $3.5 billion.

However, the push for higher spending is evidence that Brown did not satisfy lawmakers' desire to increase services for the poor, even though he included a tax break for low-income families in his latest budget proposal.

Known as an earned income tax credit, the plan would allow 825,000 families to keep more of their wages. The average qualifying household would gain $460 per year.

Democrats also want to keep subsidizing a healthcare plan used by the United Farm Workers union. Last year's budget included $3.2 million to help the union buy supplemental insurance so it could comply with rules set by President Obama's federal overhaul.

It was supposed to be a one-time stopgap measure, but now Democrats want to extend the financial assistance with $2.5 million more.

Richie Ross, a consultant for the union, described the money as a "second spare tire while we pursue the longer-term fix."

He said failing to support the healthcare plan would result in even more state costs because farmworkers would end up needing coverage through Medi-Cal.

"It's a straight-up financial decision the state should make," he said.

Twitter: @chrismegerian

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