LOS ANGELES — California lawmakers approved a $183.2 billion all-funds budget package that increases school funding, alters a state tax board and provides greater oversight over University of California finances.
Democratic control of the legislature did not prevent battles over sticking points as the budget deadline neared.
Lawmakers announced agreements at two junctures on the more controversial topics as they approached the Thursday deadline to send a budget to Gov. Jerry Brown to sign.
The final budget vote tally was 28-10 in the Senate and 59-20 in the Assembly. Simple majorities were required.
“This is a budget for all Californians,” said Senate pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. “It protects our state’s fiscal stability while also making historic investments in education and our state’s infrastructure, both which are critical to keep our economy moving and growing.”
The budget battles coincided with a push by San Diego Republican opponents of a separately approved gas tax increase for transportation to recall Sen Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, who supported the measure. Democrats responded by passing a measure to rejigger the rules for recalling elected state officials.
An agreement on how to spend revenue from a 2016 ballot measure that raised tobacco taxes dissatisfied medical professionals, who wanted increased reimbursement from Medi-Cal. Lawmakers used some of the funding to shore up the overall program.
Senate Budget Chair Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said the agreement helps the state “to provide healthcare to all Californians, but Orange County Republican senators Pat Bates and John Moorlach called it “bait and switch.”
“While Congress hides its healthcare repeal, California’s budget directs $546 million towards healthcare access, family planning and care for the developmentally disabled,” Mitchell and De Leon said in a joint statement.
The agreement on spending of the Proposition 56 tobacco tax money approved as a $2-a-pack hike in November “has been abused, plain and simple,” Moorlach said.
“The drafters of this measure certainly had a different idea in mind with where the money would be spent,” Moorlach said. “It promised doctors better funding to remain in California and to provide funds for children with dental needs.”
Moorlach also said the level of spending in the budget — up nearly $3 billion from last year’s budget — was ill-advised.
Though Gov. Jerry Brown has warned of recession and future budget cuts, “we are spending revenues all the way up to the maximum,” Moorlach said in budget testimony.
The budget “also ignores a school bond initiative voters approved which would have gone to building and modernizing classrooms for our students and teachers,” Bates said.
Voters approved the $9 billion school bond last November to help modernize and build new schools. School building advocates have also criticized the governor’s plan, which proposes issuing $600 million of general obligation bonds a year. There is $2.4 billion in pent-up demand for school construction money – and slowing state bond issuance put the burden on local school districts, Bates said.
The governor slowed the spending process earlier this year to increase oversight on school bonds after an audit showed some districts had spent school construction money on such items as golf carts, athletic uniforms and cleaning supplies.
Lawmakers allocated $2.8 billion in spending to fix roads, strengthen overpasses and bridges, and build mass transit and raised per pupil spending to $11,000, the state’s highest ever.
Two separate audits — of the University of California president’s office and the Board of Equalization — that created controversy in recent months resulted in budget-bill reforms.
The Legislature limited the financial autonomy of UC President Janet Napolitano and plans a massive overhaul of the BOE that would shift most of the agency's duties to a new Department of Tax and Fee Administration.