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California lawmakers finalize $96.3-billion budget

The budget includes healthcare expansion and financial aid for middle-class college students. Gov. Jerry Brown touted it on Twitter.

June 15, 2013|By Chris Megerian
  • Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), confers with Assemblyman Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) as lawmakers put the finishing touches on California's state budget.
Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), confers with Assemblyman… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)

SACRAMENTO – California lawmakers wrapped up their work on the state budget on Saturday, approving bills detailing plans for university tuition assistance, energy efficiency projects and the expansion of healthcare programs.

The Legislature also renewed a $500-million tax on managed care plans, which was allowed to lapse last year, and approved a framework for boosting welfare grants in the coming years.

Lawmakers had already passed the bulk of the $96.3-billion spending plan on Friday, but a collection of bills involving implementation were left until Saturday. Many of them passed along party-line votes, with Republicans in opposition.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who reached a deal on the budget with top Democratic lawmakers a week ago, has almost two weeks to sign the spending plan into law and veto any individual items he disagrees with.

The governor issued a brief statement Saturday afternoon on Twitter, saying, "After two and a half years of struggle and difficult times, California's budget is balanced and sustainable into the future."

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) said the final spending plan is proof of the good working relationship among him, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and the governor.

The budget, he said in a statement, "reflects the values of the people of California and the urgent challenges facing our state."

The Legislature approved a key bill to expand public healthcare as part of the federal overhaul championed by President Obama. More than 1 million additional Californians are expected to be covered by Medi-Cal, the state's program for the poor.

"This is truly a momentous day," said Assemblyman Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). Pérez said the legislation would provide "affordable access to healthcare for millions of Californians."

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) said the federal healthcare overhaul could be disastrous.

"We ask doctors to take an oath to first do no harm," he said. "We ask this body to do the same."

A measure to provide tuition assistance at public universities, which Pérez has been pushing for more than a year, also passed. Under the plan, financial aid will be provided to students from families who earn up to $150,000 a year, provided the students maintain a minimum 2.0 grade point average. It will be phased in over four years, with an eventual cost of $300 million annually.

Pérez said students from wealthy families have been able to absorb rising costs, while poorer students can rely on other aid programs. "This is the opportunity to give the middle class those same protections," he said.

Another bill would distribute $2.5 billion over five years for energy efficiency projects at schools and community colleges.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said the final plan was a significant improvement over the governor's original proposal for using the money, which was generated by a change in corporate taxes approved by voters in November.

"It helps our schools maximize the energy savings they can achieve and the job creation that could occur," she said. "This is a proposal we can all be proud of."

The Assembly also approved a constitutional amendment that would make it easier for local governments to raise property taxes and issue bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements. The measure's author, Assemblyman Robert Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), said it would allow cities and counties to "invest in their prosperity."

Republicans said the measure was an attack on Proposition 13, the 1978 amendment limiting taxes. The Senate doesn't plan to consider the issue until next year.

The Assembly moved quickly to wrap up its work because some members had important plans later in the day -- Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (R-O'Neals) was due at his son's wedding and Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) was getting married.

chris.megerian@latimes.com

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