Budget: Good or Bad, It's Done

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Pool Photo/ Hector Amezcua

171 days after Governor Jerry Brown proposed a spending plan to the Legislature, Brown sat at a table in his Capitol office and signed a compromise on-time version into law, one that adheres to most of his suggested cuts, skips his preferred taxes, and banks on a whole lot of unexpected revenue.

What will Brown, the Legislature, interest groups, and the press do with the summer now that the big battle is over?

First, exhale. But then, perhaps quickly, gear up for round two.

"We have big cuts," Brown said in brief opening remarks during a closed-door, pool press only budget signing. "It really does put our fiscal house in much better shape, but we're not finished."

Advisers say the governor has not yet signed all of the budget implementation "trailer" bills, and may not do so until Friday. But what he's signed is good enough for the 'balanced budget certification' that allows Controller John Chiang to issue paychecks to legislators (albeit shrunken ones due to the Legislature's delayed ratification).

One of the trailer bills unsigned, for now, is the one that delayed Tuesday night's vote the longest and, probably not surprisingly, the one that raises the most questions. AB 114, related to education funding, appears to prohibit school districts from laying off teachers as they wait to see if the budget hits its projected revenue target; if the target is missed by $2 billion, school funding will be cut.

The bill seems to be a big win for the politically powerful California Teachers Association. And it may answer a question posed by a well-placed budget watcher in a background conversation earlier this week: why would the CTA agree to the budget's segregation of tax revenues for government realignment that, by the powers of Proposition 98, automatically lowered school funding? Perhaps AB 114's protections helped.

The bill also lays out unusual directives to schools about how to budget in advance of the "revenue trigger" analysis this coming winter. And that's not sitting well in some corners of the education world.

"We ask that you support and help lead our effort to get these provisions repealed," wrote California School Boards Association president Martha Fluor today in a letter to Governor Brown.

Representatives of cities across the state also expressed shock at a nugget lodged in a budget trailer bill: a redirection of $130 million in VLF funds. Those dollars currently are used by for public safety needs, especially by newly incorporated cities, and now would be transferred into the public safety realignment plan Brown has pushed for all year.

"Vital dollars for police, fire and every other city program will be decimated,” said Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour in an emailed statement. So far, Brown's office has not confirmed whether the VLF trailer bill, SB 89, has been signed.

KQED/John Myers

Meantime, the wrapping up of the budget is opening a new round of jabs over what was left out: Brown's desired five year extension of temporary taxes.

Republicans traveled to a downtown Sacramento auto dealership today to celebrate Friday's drop in the state portion of the sales tax by 1%, the drop in the vehicle license fee (VLF) by .5%, and more.

"Independence Day is coming a little early for taxpayers this year," said Assembly GOP Leader Connie Conway. "We kept politicians out of the taxpayers' wallets."

But Democrats, and the Brown administration, pointed out that the absence of the taxes forced deeper cuts in higher education, criminal justice, and beyond. "Those are real effects," said the governor's budget director, Ana Matasantos, in a briefing with reporters.

And, as governors are wont to do, Brown used his line-item veto power to "blue pencil" out some of the legislative spending priorities in the budget to the tune of $270 million. That includes (PDF) a complete zeroing out of funding for the California Postsecondary Education Commission, additional cuts to the state courts, and rejection of Bay Area and Los Angeles mass transit funds that were ostensibly in preparation for future transit blending with high-speed rail.

At the budget signing, Governor Brown seemed intent on reminding everyone that his quest isn't over -- on taxes and budgetary reform. "Before we get finished, I bet we're going to have to go back to the people," said the governor in reference to a ballot measure on taxes.

But for now, before those fights begin again, the Capitol community can close the books on the main budget fight of 2011. Unless, of course, revenues or expenses don't pan out as planned...

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • sylviaArobles

    I just read tweat that stated almost $7 million was spent from Sacramento Redevelopment funds for the Mermaid Dive Bar! I propose all us anti-RDA and Stopthemoneypit types drive to Sacto and have a “meet up” at the Dive Bar. Ofcourse, we will have a press conference have one drink and take a taxi home.

  • hello

    Will there be a podcast today?

  • Rick

    Yet another “let’s get a budget done even if it kicks the real problems down the road” budget. This budget solves nothing. Wait until the hoped for tax vote fails and we will see even more budget gimmicks.
    I do not hold out hope that California can get its act together.