The state Legislature on Thursday voted to strip the state’s scandal-plagued tax board of most of its duties and powers, sending the governor a bill that would transfer taxpayer appeals hearings to a new office of administrative law judges.
The state Board of Equalization has been hit by a series of scandals, including audits showing that it misallocated hundreds of millions of sales tax dollars to the wrong accounts and that elected board members opened field offices and transferred workers without authority to do so.
Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said the measure will make structural reforms to address "significant issues of mismanagement and misuse of budget resources and disregard of directives of this Legislature."
A controversial bill to revise the rules of special recall elections against lawmakers was approved by both houses of the Legislature on Thursday, but not before angry accusations over the pending recall effort against an Orange County state senator.
Both changes would slow down the scheduling of a recall election, and could therefore benefit state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), the subject of a recall attempt in the wake of his vote for a $52-billion transportation bill that included a gas tax increase.
California state lawmakers approved $45 million in a state budget plan to expand legal services for immigrants, a response to the Trump administration's call to increase deportations.
The funds, greater than what Gov. Jerry Brown earmarked in May and which will be an ongoing allocation through 2020, will go to a coalition of legal services agencies, immigrant rights groups and faith-based organizations called One California.
The $30-million legal assistance program, run by the state Department of Social Services, was first assembled to help thousands of immigrants apply for naturalization and former President Obama’s deferred action programs. With the additional money, providers will now also be able to help immigrants fighting deportation or removal proceedings.
The squabble over how to spend around $1.3 billion in new tobacco tax revenues in California was one of the most prolonged standoffs of the budget season. But on Thursday, the compromise plan easily cleared the Legislature.
Under the spending plan, $465 million will go toward increased payments for doctors and dentists who see patients in the Medi-Cal program. Those healthcare providers had envisioned getting more money when they backed Proposition 56 last year, but Gov. Jerry Brown had resisted upping reimbursements at all for most of the budget season.
Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans sided with the medical groups, arguing that voters had backed the tax in order to expand access to Medi-Cal and that higher payments to doctors and dentists would encourage them to participate in the program.
Three months ago, Democratic legislators unveiled a bold "debt-free college" plan that sought to eliminate the need for nearly 400,000 students to take out loans to finance their UC and Cal State degrees.
Now, they're poised to approve a budget that includes more modest efforts to chip away at the spiraling costs of attending college.
"We didn't get into this problem overnight and we're not going to get out of it overnight either," said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), who helped lead the proposal. "This is a long-term conversation ... that I think the Assembly and frankly the Legislature is totally committed to."
Lawmakers convene Thursday afternoon to sign off on a package of bills that comprise California's state budget, and by day's end will have extended a streak once thought impossible in Sacramento: eight years of on-time budgets.
From 1987 through 2010, the Legislature consistently missed its constitutional deadline to ratify a state budget no later than June 15. In most years, debate over a spending plan stretched well into the summer. In 2010, lawmakers didn't send a budget to the governor until Oct. 10.
In addition to the strain of crafting budgets during deep recessions, the annual logjam was a function of California's long-standing requirement that a budget be approved by supermajority votes in both the state Assembly and Senate. That meant bipartisan cooperation in the Legislature, in addition to striking deals with both Republican and Democratic governors. The state was one of only three in the nation with such a legislative hurdle to pass a budget.
An internationally known stem cell scientist and entrepreneur will join the ranks of candidates trying to unseat Republican incumbents in contested House races next year when he announces Thursday his challenge of 18-term Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.
Keirstead’s candidacy has been sought by some national Democratic figures, who see his science and business background as a good fit for the district. It runs along the Orange County coastline from Laguna Beach to Seal Beach and includes some nearby inland cities.