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California Lawmakers Hit Budget Deadline Despite Ongoing Negotiations With Governor

The California Capitol building in Sacramento
Andrew Nixon/CapRadio
The California Capitol building in Sacramento

Lawmakers in California’s Democratic-controlled Legislature passed a version of the budget, but are still negotiating on a final product with Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The budget is considered a framework for ongoing talks with Newsom’s administration as the start of a new fiscal year looms. Lawmakers approved it by large margins in both chambers Monday afternoon, securing their paychecks, which would have been forfeited for each day the budget is late, under 2010’s Proposition 25.

In their respective budgets, both lawmakers and Newsom assume $14 billion in federal aid. But the proposals differ on how to close a $54 billion deficit if that help does not materialise.

The governor proposed $14 billion in “trigger cuts” if congressional aid is not approved by July 1. Lawmakers extended the deadline to October and plan to lean more heavily on the state’s rainy-day fund and borrowing, limiting cuts to $7 billion if the aid does not arrive.

Democratic lawmakers argue their budget would protect the state’s most vulnerable during public health and economic crises by keeping funding for education, health and child care programs intact.

“We are at a time when people need their government and their services more than ever,” said Assembly Budget Chairman Phil Ting, D- San Francisco. “We shouldn’t retreat. We should do the opposite — go and help.”

The version approved by lawmakers would also expand Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented seniors beginning in 2022, provided funding exists. Newsom has proposed canceling the expansion.

Another sticking point is the governor’s pandemic response, which some lawmakers have criticized as lacking transparency and oversight. Newsom has asked for nearly $3 billion in additional funds to battle the spread of the virus.

Republicans decried a rushed process and a budget that was crafted largely behind closed doors without the usual subcommittee hearings. Lawmakers took an extended spring recess in mid-March — just before California instituted a statewide stay-at-home order — and that affected the typical budget-vetting process.

Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake) criticized the budget as “structurally irresponsible” given the size of the deficit.

“We are the adults in the room. It’s our responsibility to have those discussions” and make difficult decisions about what to cut, he said.

The approved budget is largely symbolic, as legislative leaders acknowledged ongoing negotiations and the likelihood that lawmakers will need to refine it in late summer after revenues from delayed tax deadlines arrive in the state’s coffers.

“We continue to meet with the governor and his staff,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D- San Diego. “Now that we’ve met our constitutional obligation, it’s time to come together and meet our moral obligation.”

The fate of the budget approved on Monday is unclear; Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to a request to comment or discuss.

Copyright 2020 CapRadio