Jerry Brown cuts $195.7 million from budget

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown sliced $195.7 million from the budget that lawmakers sent him, disappointing fellow Democrats by taking money from child care, college scholarships and state parks and adding more to a rainy-day fund.

In a series of line-item vetoes detailed Thursday, Brown brought general fund spending to $91.3 billion and the overall state budget, including dedicated funds and bond money, to $142.4 billion.

The governor did not explain his vetoes publicly. His finance director, Ana Matosantos, said he wanted a larger reserve to cushion the state against any financial turbulence in the coming fiscal year, which begins Sunday.

Although Brown reduced some park funds, officials said state operations would cease as of Sunday at only five of the 70 properties originally proposed for closure. Agreements with private donors, nonprofits and other government agencies will keep 40 of the natural and historic sites open; 25 others will continue operating as more funding agreements are negotiated.

The vetoes came with little fanfare, capping a tense budget process during which Democratic lawmakers resisted some of the deepest social services cuts the governor requested. He signed 27 budget bills late Wednesday in an outdoor courtyard at the Capitol, with a few aides and two photographers present.

Brown issued a statement saying, “This budget reflects tough choices that will help get California back on track.”

Democratic lawmakers had hoped he would leave their spending plan intact after weeks of negotiations, and they called his vetoes “disappointing,” “gratuitous” and “unnecessary.”

“We moved extremely far to get a budget that reflected his position,” said Assembly Budget Chairman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills). “There’s no way I’m happy about it.”

In particular, Blumenfield criticized Brown’s decision to cut state-funded scholarships known as Cal Grants by 5% in the upcoming academic year for new and continuing students at private colleges. The budget plan finalized by the Legislature on Wednesday would have cut scholarships only for new students starting the following year.

Financial aid will also be reduced for some students using Cal Grants at public colleges.

Brown’s vetoes bring the state’s reserve fund to $948 million, more than the $788 million included in the budget that lawmakers sent to him. Democratic legislators have insisted that the money is better used to prevent more severe cuts in social services.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he disagreed with the governor’s extra cuts, but noted: “It could have been worse.” He said Democratic lawmakers hadn’t reached any “ironclad agreement” to prevent line-item vetoes.

The governor’s other reductions prompted sharp criticism from advocates for low-income families. Brown cut more deeply into state-subsidized child care, eliminating 14,000 children from the program. Funding will still be available for 217,400 children, officials said.

Giuliana Halasz, who heads a statewide association of child-care providers, said reducing services would make it harder for parents to work because their children may not have a safe place to stay.

“It’s very, very damaging,” she said.

Brown also pared a proposal from Democratic lawmakers to boost funding for parks. Matosantos said that spending was curtailed because it would have shifted money away from off-road vehicle areas and alternative energy programs.

However, redirected bond funds that Brown left alone will allow some park improvements, such as shifting from diesel to solar power in some places and installing credit card machines to take entrance fees.

Administration officials said there would be a soft landing after the possibility of dozens of closings.

A mining museum in Mariposa County will be shuttered, and a park near the Mojave Desert will remain closed. The state will remove staff and services such as garbage collection from three beaches, but visitors will still have access to them, said Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency.

More closings are being prevented by a patchwork of agreements with nonprofits, private donors, private companies and other government agencies.

“We have re-energized the people who love parks, and they are stepping up and contributing to these parks in all sorts of ways,” said Ruth Coleman, the state parks director.

Officials and advocates have cautioned that the agreements are a short-term solution, with some lasting only a year.

“The long-term picture is cloudy at best,” said Sen. Joseph Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who pushed the parks plan that Brown pared down. “It’s way too soon to pat ourselves on the back.”