SACRAMENTO -- In a resounding victory for open government advocates and the California media, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature on Thursday backed away from plans to make the state's open-records law essentially optional for cities and other local agencies.

State lawmakers were hit with a torrent of criticism from newspapers around the state, as well opposition from everyone from liberal environmentalists to conservatives, who feared the change approved by the Legislature last week would have severely limited the public's right to know what their government is up to.

After deciding last week to pull about $20 million for local agencies to respond to requests made under the California Public Records Act -- signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1968 -- Brown and Senate leaders reversed course Thursday, a day after the Assembly did the same.

The political firestorm proved too much to bear for state leaders, particularly in light of the relatively small amount of funding the state was looking to cut, which amounts to 0.02 percent of the state's general-fund budget at a time when the budget has a $1.1 billion surplus.

But state leaders called the funding restoration a short-term fix, agreeing to place a measure on the ballot next year that would shift the costs from the state to local agencies.

"We support the legislative leaders' approach, which will eliminate uncertainty about local compliance with the law and, on a permanent basis, ensure that local government pays for what has long been its explicit responsibility," Brown's spokesman, Evan Westrup, said in a statement.

Reporters and other watchdogs regularly file public records requests seeking data such as government salaries and email correspondence between public officials, and the information over the decades has led to the exposure of wrongdoing and in some cases criminal indictments. The law approved last week would have allowed cities, counties and school districts to essentially ignore those requests if they chose to.

They're now required to send a response within 10 days.

"It's truly a great thing that we're going to continue to have access to this valuable information," said Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. "It really reinforces the public's right to know."

Before the deal was reached Thursday afternoon, the Bay Area News Group -- which includes this newspaper -- polled administrators from dozens of cities, school districts and other agencies around the Bay Area, asking them whether they would still respond to public records requests if they had to pay for it. Dozens of agencies never responded to the newspaper group's yes-no, one-question request -- and others were non-committal. For instance, Larry Cheeves, the city manager of Union City, said it was "premature to respond" before the law was finalized.

But leaders of several cities and counties vowed to pay for records requests themselves, including Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, San Jose, Oakland, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Fremont, San Pablo, Richmond, Dublin, Campbell, Danville, El Cerrito, Hercules, San Leandro, San Ramon, Orinda, Piedmont, Albany, Walnut Creek, Pinole, Martinez, Oakley, Antioch, Palo Alto, Burlingame and San Mateo.

"Despite the Legislature's attempt to water down the Public Records Act, the city of Newark is fully committed to responding to all requests within 10 days under existing law," said Newark City Manager John Becker.

Many public agencies charge the public for the cost of the documents they provide but bill the state for the staff time spent working on the requests. Other agencies simply eat the costs.

The Assembly, after issuing a statement in support of restoring the records funding late Wednesday, voted 54-25 to reinstate the money Thursday morning. The Senate, after balking at the Assembly's plan Wednesday, is now expected to follow suit following a statement of support released Thursday from Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in unison with Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.

"We agree there needs to be both an immediate fix to ensure local entities comply with the California Public Records Act and a long-term solution so the California Public Records Act is not considered a reimbursable mandate," the joint statement from Steinberg and Perez said. "As the Senate advances its proposed constitutional amendment, the Assembly will work with them throughout its process to give voters the chance to make clear that good government shouldn't come with an extra price tag."

Brown had also avoided the issue, even darting out of a San Francisco event Thursday morning to avoid waiting reporters, until his office released a statement Thursday afternoon siding with the new plan from Perez and Steinberg. He is expected to sign the bill restoring public records funding, SB 71, after the Senate votes on it Monday.

The Brown administration insists it never intended to quash the public records process but simply proposed the change in the first place because the governor wanted to save the state money by requiring local governments to pay for their own public records responses. The problem is that because complying with the records law is a state mandate, cities must be reimbursed by the state for the cost to comply with it. Next year's ballot measure seeks to change that.

Staff writers Matthew Artz, Paul Burgarino, Rowena Coetsee, Denis Cuff, Linda Davis, Chris De Benedetti, Aaron Kinney, Tom Lochner, Ashly McGlone, Eve Mitchell, Jennifer Modenessi, Elisabeth Nardi, Robert Rogers, Tracy Seipel, Jeremy Thomas, Chris Treadway and John Woolfolk contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.