SACRAMENTO -- The state Legislature on Sunday night approved a record $108 billion budget that has some new spending aimed at helping California's most vulnerable but also reflects Gov. Jerry Brown's insistence on fiscal prudence.
The main budget bill cleared the Assembly 55-24 and passed the Senate 25-11, with only one Republican in the Democratic-controlled Legislature voting in favor of it. Lawmakers worked on Father's Day because they had to meet a constitutional deadline to send a balanced budget to the governor -- or risk not getting paid.
The spending blueprint for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is $7.2 billion larger than last year's general fund budget. It includes $10.6 billion to pay down old debts, $1.6 billion for a "rainy day fund" to ease the pain of future recessions and a long-sought plan to fully fund the teachers' pension system.
Key deals struck in the final days of budget negotiations will finance preschool for all low-income 4-year-olds and overtime pay for in-home aides who care for the elderly and disabled. And spending on public schools is set to rise $5.6 billion -- a 10 percent increase over last year.
But many Democrats who voted for the plan said it was too skimpy considering that the state is flush with cash.
"The governor is the one with the bully pulpit. He sets the tone," said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. "In this case, he wasn't willing to back the same level of reinvestment the Legislature sought. In the future, I hope we do more."
Democrats and Republicans both complained when they learned late last week that the budget would not include an increase in Medi-Cal providers' reimbursement rates, which were lowered during the economic downturn and haven't risen since.
The Brown administration said the state simply couldn't afford it this year.
California's rates are now among the lowest in the country, making it difficult if not impossible for some doctors to accept low-income patients or keep clinic doors open. Failing to boost rates puts millions of Californians at risk of not having access to care when they need it, lawmakers said.
"It hit me hard," Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, said of the Legislature's failure to strike a Medi-Cal deal. "We signed up a huge number of people through the Affordable Care Act, and now they may have to wait in long lines to see a doctor. No one wants to see that."
Republican lawmakers applauded the budget's commitment to saving and paying down old debts. But Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff said some compromises, including a long-term funding plan for California's controversial bullet train, were nothing more than "back-door deals drafted by Democrats, for Democrats."
"A Republican budget ... would not continue to throw billions of dollars into the illegal high-speed rail scheme that could cost $100 billion," said Huff, R-Diamond Bar. "It's over budget, embarrassingly behind schedule, and the public doesn't support it."
Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres was the only Republican to vote for the budget, which requires a simple majority vote.
After months of negotiations, Brown and Democratic leaders nailed down a plan for spending the cap-and-trade proceeds collected annually from the state's worst polluters in the fight against greenhouse gases and climate change. It allocates a third of the fees -- which will total about $850 million next fiscal year -- to construction of the bullet train. Democrats in the Legislature wanted to set aside half as much.
They agreed to use a quarter of the money for high-speed rail and a third for construction of affordable housing near "green" transit, such as light rail.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, applauded the budget agreement on cap-and-trade but conceded that the spending plan does not go far enough to reinvest in California's most vulnerable populations, including the 6 million people living here in poverty.
"We are not there yet, but we are well on our way, and things are dramatically different and better than they were several years ago," Steinberg said. "The difference is night versus day. A hail storm versus bright sunshine. It is constant dread versus real hope for the future."