New California budget adds millions for welfare programs

June 15, 2016
AP writer Alison Noon and KCRA 3 reporter David Bienick contributed to this report. SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) —California lawmakers on Wednesday approved a state budget that boosts funding for safety net programs while socking away billions of dollars to prepare for a recession. The $122.5 billion spending plan also increases funding for universities under the condition that they admit more California residents. It sets aside $400 million for low-income housing but only if lawmakers can agree to speed housing developments in some areas. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown negotiated the agreement with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles. Brown is expected to sign it into law. Democrats have generally praised the budget as a significant investment in alleviating the harmful effects of poverty on children. Republicans warned that expanding long-term spending commitments will lead to deficits down the road. By law, about half the budget goes to K-12 schools and community colleges. The budget also includes a big boost in wages for people who provide subsidized child care, helping them keep up with the state's minimum wage that's scheduled to rise to $15 per hour over the next six years. About 9,000 additional children will eventually gain access to care. About 126,000 children in 93,000 families would get a boost in benefits for CalWORKs, the state's welfare program, due to the repeal of a 1994 law that prohibits additional state aid for children conceived while a parent is on welfare. Critics said the policy, known as maximum family grant, was based on racist stereotypes about welfare recipients. Brown had been reluctant to commit to the $220 million annual cost of repeal until lawmakers found a way to pay for it in the future without relying on the general fund. Lawmakers voted to increase funding for both California State University and the University of California, but they're required to enroll more California residents. The UC system is also required to cap enrollment of out-of-state students or forfeit nearly $19 million. Brown and legislative leaders agreed to set aside $400 million for low-income housing, assuming lawmakers and Brown can agree on a plan to bypass construction review processes in certain neighborhoods. The policy has drawn strong opposition from neighborhood activists, who are fearful it will allow developments that change the character of their communities. Brown won a commitment from legislators to pump $2 billion more than required into the state's rainy day fund, which can only be accessed during times of economic distress. He also secured funding to renovate state buildings, potentially including the Capitol. "One of the reasons I'll be supporting this is just recognizing the fact that there are somewhere between 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 people, Californians, who come to this building," said state Sen. Mark Leno, Democratic chair of the Senate Budget Committee, during a hearing. The renovations would focus on the annex to the Capitol, built during the late 1940s and early 1950s. State Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, said the annex has cramped hearing rooms, bad wiring and possibly asbestos and mold. "I think the most evident thing is when you look at the ceiling, and we don't see fire sprinklers," Pan told KCRA 3. The renovations fund would also help replace the Resources Building at 9th and O streets and the Food and Agriculture Building near 11th and N streets. "It's my personal view that we should take this $1.5 billion and we should invest it in the crumbling infrastructure, which will create thousands of jobs in all of our counties," said state Sen. Jeff Stone, a Republican from Temecula. Lawmakers failed to reach a deal on funding to fix crumbling roads and highways, which they have labeled as a top priority for several years. "Not any more money is going toward transportation, to our crumbling road infrastructure. That is a glaring omission in this budget," said state Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Plumas Lake. The budget would raise vehicle registration fees from $70 to $80 a year. The move will generate about $400 million annually for the Department of Motor Vehicles, California Highway Patrol, Air Resources Board and other departments. The higher fee will apply to vehicles scheduled to be renewed starting next April. Registration fees were last raised in 2011, according to the Department of Finance.