Gov. Jerry Brown revels in his reputation for frugality, but almost all of his concerns over state spending were hashed out with legislative leaders in private -- as the budget he's signed into law includes the smallest number of line-item vetoes of any spending plan in 20 years.
"We have a balanced budget, not just proposed, but actually actualized," said Brown in a Thursday morning signing ceremony at the state Capitol.
The spending plan, in place before the start of the state's new fiscal year next Monday, marks the end to a winter and spring of negotiations that were as much about predictions (revenue) as they were about priorities (spending). In the end, the budget uses the Brown administration's somewhat more cautious economic estimates, and authorizes $145.3 billion in spending -- about $3 billion in more spending, overall, than in the year ending on June 30.
The priorities of the governor and his Democratic colleagues in the Legislature are clearly contained in the enacted budget: more money for K-12 education and more of it for disadvantaged students, and major changes in health care for low-income families that will put California on the leading edge of implementing the federal Affordable Care Act.
"The rest of the country is looking to see how we did it," said Brown.
The budget also includes priorities of the two legislative leaders: a UC/CSU scholarship program championed by Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, and new funding for mental health services promoted by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
"For so long, the issues of mental health funding have been at the bottom of government's funding priority list," said Steinberg in touting the extra money for those services in this plan. "Thousands of people will benefit as a result."
But like all governors since well, Jerry Brown in 1983... some of the Legislature's spending decisions were scratched out via the line-item veto (PDF).
Brown vetoed only $40.6 million in spending, the lowest total since former Gov. Pete Wilson's vetoes in 1993. The vast majority of the vetoes were in education spending: $30 million in special education and $5 million for low-income children to attend preschool.
The governor's budget director, Ana Matasantos, defended both cuts as necessary for the state's bottom line.
The $30 million veto in special ed funds means that school districts will have to find ways to fund mandated services for those students out of existing funds.
Brown also vetoed language that earmarked $10 million in both the UC and CSU budgets for online education efforts. Advisers say the action gives both university systems the flexibility to implement the online programs as they see fit -- an apparent backtracking, of sorts, on his own agenda from earlier this year.
The governor also waded back a bit, it seems, into the swirl of issues about government transparency -- by vetoing language in the budget that the state's court system must spend money on implementing a new open meetings requirement. His veto message urges the state Judicial Council to "provide greater public access" to its meetings without the cash.
The enacted budget's most interesting data may be long term, courtesy of projections Brown's budget team released about state spending and revenues to come.
That data predicts an almost $8 billion surge in expenditures in the fiscal year than begins next July -- driven, in large part, by a rise in the mandatory K-12 funding guarantee. The governor's budget team says that boost is a result of this past January's spike in tax revenues, and the mechanics of the education funding law and how school debts from years past are repaid.