California lawmakers passed an on-schedule $156.4-billion budget on Wednesday, planning for an improving economy and a brighter future for the Golden State. The budget focused on expanding its help to the poor in the form of preschool and welfare support increases, as well as starting work on America’s first bullet train.
When compared to last year’s spending plan, the budget is $7.2 billion larger and includes more than $10 billion for paying old debts, including the $74 billion shortfall in the teachers’ retirement fund. In addition, the lawmakers allocated approximately $1.6 billion for a so-called “rainy day fund” that lawmakers explained would be used to ease recession-related economic assistance. Nearly $460 billion will be held in reserve.
“This is a much better day than what we’ve seen in the past,” said Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democratic lawmaker, referring to California’s budget problems in the past. In 2009, under then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California faced a budget shortfall of at least $11.2 billion, forcing California State Controller John Chiang to delay $3.5 billion in state payments for things like tax refunds.
The budget bill passed both the Assembly and the Senate, said Jessica Calefate, a reporter with the San Jose Mercury News. The budget goes into effect on July 1, 2014. Passing a peaceful $156 billion budget is a sign that lawmakers feel the California economy is improving and the future appears to be bright.
According to the California Department of Finance (DOF), California’s Constitution mandates that the Governor must submit a budget each year to the Legislature by January 10. After that, the Constitution requires a Budget Bill be introduced to both houses of the Legislature (Senate and Assembly), and if everything goes correctly, the Budget Bill needs to be passed by June 15. Only after the Budget Bill receives a two-thirds vote of each house, can it be passed on to the Governor for signature or veto.
Other important deals that were made by lawmakers in negotiating this year’s budget include the financing of preschool for low-income children under four years old. In addition, the new spending blueprint paves the way for home-helpers as well as more than $5 billion for public school funding.
While both Democrats and Republicans had hoped for increases in Medi-Cal reimbursement payments, but Governor Jerry Brown decided California could not afford the increased support payments.
The new budget included other noteworthy items like removing the requirement for all undocumented immigrants to submit an affidavit admitting to not having a Social Security number, and a clause that ends a lifetime ban on public assistance for anyone who was convicted of a felony for drug offenses. Under the new budget, anyone with a felony conviction who also has children would be eligible for public assistance. The estimated cost of this program will be approximately $11 million this year and $32 million each year thereafter.
“Now immigrant applicants can say they are ineligible for a Social Security Number on the DMV forms,” said Sacramento Bee reporter Jim Miller. “Lawmakers also felt that lifting the felony conviction ban would help felons rebuild their lives and contributing to society,” said Miller.
While California’s $156.4 billion budget may not have provided everything to everyone, it was a large step to acknowledging that California’s economy is improving and that the future may be starting to brighten.
By Vincent Aviani