Hurdles mount for Gov. Jerry Brown's budget
The state’s legislative analyst has repeatedly said the governor’s revenue estimates are billions of dollars too high. The federal government continues to block cuts to California’s healthcare program for poor residents.
And even though Brown has urged lawmakers to trim welfare and medical spending in March, members of his own party have resisted.
“We hope that the Legislature will take action -- as they did last year -- because we know there’s going to be a shortfall and it’s better to start banking savings now,” said Elizabeth Ashford, a spokeswoman for the governor. “If we don’t, we’re looking at even deeper cuts this summer.”
There's a tug of war over state spending every year, but the setbacks are adding up to a bumpy road to this summer's deadline to pass a budget, which will need to close an estimated $9.2-billion deficit. When calculating the governor's spending plan, the Brown administration assumed lawmakers would make cuts in March, but for the last two months top Democrats said that wouldn’t happen.
On Wednesday, an Assembly subcommittee rejected almost $950 million in Brown's cuts to CalWORKs, the state’s welfare program. Without updated budget numbers, which are due in May, Democrats said there’s no reason to make cuts that may not be necessary if tax revenue improves along with the economy.
“The smartest approach is to wait and see what April tax receipts bring before taking actions that could cause more harm,” said Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
Democrats said Brown has provided few details on his plans, and has done little behind-the-scenes lobbying to push them into action.
Brown believes the cuts are necessary "to build momentum and face reality," Ashford said, and he has "communicated that to the Legislature."
In the meantime, lawmakers have held a series of detailed hearings digging into Brown’s proposals. Some of them include sweeping policy changes, such as overhauling the school funding formula, and lawmakers accused Brown of trying to rush the process.
Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) said hammering out a state budget, always a difficult task, is complicated in an election year where lawmakers are trying to hold onto their jobs. He said Democrats don’t want to make unpopular decisions before the June primary.
“You’ll hear lip service,” Huff said. “You won’t hear substance until after the June election.”
It’s not unusual for lawmakers to rework a governor’s initial budget proposal, said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a Sacramento think tank.
“That’s the way democracy should work,” she said, adding, “It’s actually one of the things that California does right.”
-- Chris Megerian
Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown outlining his budget proposal for reporters in the Capitol in January. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press