Legislative budget slog slowly coming to an end

4:23 PM, Jun 25, 2012   |    comments
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If all goes as now planned, the final details on a new state budget will be sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday of this week -- a full twelve days since the first bills made their own way to the governor's desk on the Capitol's first floor.

Budget writers in the state Senate are working through Monday evening on a dozen budget implementing bills, and are expected to review the final fiscal proposals on Tuesday.  That's then expected to lead to full Senate and Assembly votes on Wednesday.

"I do believe that we can be on the path to fiscal stability and end this deficit at the same time," Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters at midday Monday.

While the 2012 budget saga is undoubtedly weeks and months shorter than those in years past, it's still been one of the most protracted when it comes to the long procession of bills from drafting to denouement.

In fact, one budget bill was formally retracted from Brown's desk on Monday by the Assembly -- a reflection of the fluid nature of nailing down the final details of the "deal" announced last week by the governor and legislative Democrats.

Some of the deal points that have now become clear are new.  That includes promises of a $125 million funding increase in 2013-2014 for both the University of California and CSU campuses, but only if college officials forego any tuition increase in the next 12 months.  And perhaps just as noteworthy, the budget deal ups the wattage on the jolt higher education would receive if Brown's November tax initiative is rejected by voters -- a $250 million cut to both UC and CSU budgets.

The budget also effectively cashes out the state's entire portion of the settlement in a national mortgage lawsuit.  Of the $410.6 million California is due to receive, the budget grabs $392 million to erase general fund pressures and gives the remaining $18 million to Attorney General Kamala Harris for "mortgage assistance purposes."  Governor Brown had originally taken $292 million of the settlement; as of last week, the Legislature had upped that to $342 million.  The final deal empties out the bank account altogether.

While many elements seemed to have gelled as the budget bills find their way into print, one item remained hotly debated on Monday: legislative approval of a Brown proposal to eliminate the state's Healthy Families health care program for poor children.  Instead, the 900,000 recipients would be shifted in phases into the state's general Medi-Cal program.  

Advocates questioned the wisdom of moving kids into health care programs that may have fewer providers and that also foregoes a substantial amount of additional dollars that are paid into the program from non-budget sources.

"In return for saving $13 million," said Beth Capell of the advocacy group Health Access to senators on Monday, "you are putting at risk several hundred million dollars."

Many of those 'non-budget' dollars come from a tax on managed care plans -- one that legislative Republicans say they won't vote to extend if the program is eliminated.

And if that wasn't enough, the budget proposal also appears to offer an not-so-small boost to Governor Brown's tax initiative, a bit of language found in one of the implementation bills by the eagle eyes over at the Sacramento Bee: the budget says a "constitutional amendment" should be placed at the top of a ballot, above all other measures except bonds.

And what's the only constitutional amendment (so far) on the November ballot? That would be Brown's tax/realignment initiative.


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