California lawmakers give initial OK to Jerry Brown’s budget plan

Lawmakers in both houses of the Legislature on Friday gave a preliminary blessing to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, which calls for deep cuts to state services and counts on voters to approve billions of dollars in taxes later this year.

The legislators made relatively minor changes to the governor’s $84.6 billion spending proposal. Some differences remain on cuts in home healthcare services and healthcare for the developmentally disabled, as well as on Brown’s proposed elimination of redevelopment agencies.

But Friday’s action marked the first time that reluctant Democrats agreed to the basic architecture of Brown’s plan, which includes more than $6 billion in cuts to welfare and healthcare for the poor and slashes spending on public universities by $1 billion.

Brown cheered the Senate and Assembly votes and said he remains hopeful that a bipartisan accord can be reached in coming weeks.


“I think we’re within striking distance of getting something out of the Legislature that will give the people a chance to vote,” the governor told reporters in his Capitol office.

Select members of both houses will convene to reconcile their respective spending proposals beginning next week. Brown set a March 10 deadline for lawmakers to send him a final plan.

While legislators did their work, Brown announced a relatively small cut aimed at building public goodwill: eliminating funding for trinkets handed out by state agencies. He ordered the agencies to stop spending taxpayers’ money on such items as pill boxes from the state Board of Pharmacy, miniature orange cones from Caltrans and plastic cups from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The effect on California’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit would be minimal. So would any savings from reducing state cell phone use and cutting back on state cars, which the governor has also ordered. But the gestures pay political dividends.

Fiddling with a small battery-operated fan from the Department of Motor Vehicles, Brown said the agency cuts underscore a significant effort to streamline government and stop unnecessary spending.

“I do want to continuously send the message that we’re going to keep on going,” Brown said. “It isn’t just tchotchkes. ... We’re going to be looking for ways of collapsing agencies and reducing the government to the maximum degree that I can.”

While Brown tries to build public support for his budget, he must simultaneously shepherd it through the Legislature. He praised Democrats for “making some tough cuts” Friday and repeated his call on Republicans to let voters decide in a special election whether to renew some expired taxes and extend others that are set to end.

Some Republican support is needed for the Legislature to place a tax measure on the ballot and would be necessary for any tax extension.


“Many of the Republicans do not want to put the matter of tax extensions before the people. I can understand that,” he said. “But what I presented is a fair plan.”

Some Republican leaders have said they would never vote for Brown’s tax plan. But there was a measured tone from some GOP legislators in the Capitol on Friday.

“Today’s action is a start toward resolving our $26 billion budget deficit,” said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), the ranking Republican on the Assembly Budget Committee. “This budget proposal is long on taxes and short of long-term changes that will ensure enduring budget stability.”