By Wyatt Buchanan
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed into law a new state budget for the fiscal year beginning Monday, calling it a “momentous occasion” for California’s finances, which have been on a roller coaster for years.
“We have a balanced budget, not proposed, but actually actualized – the first time in probably a decade or more where the state’s finances are in very solid shape,” Brown said.
The plan outlines spending for $96.2 billion in the general fund — the state’s main checking account, which pays for schools, colleges, health and human services, and public safety — and $49 billion in special funds and bonds.
Brown did not make significant changes to the plan the Legislature passed earlier in the month, though he did use his line-item veto authority to cut about $41 million from the spending plan. Most of that — some $30 million — was cut from a Department of Education fund for special education.
The governor and Democratic leaders of the Legislature gathered in his office at the Capitol for the bill-signing, which included two other bills that will enable the state to further implement the federal Affordable Care Act. He and the legislative leaders were jovial, and among the crowd were many health care advocates.
Democrats in the Legislature had hoped for more spending during the budget process, but Brown curtailed their enthusiasm by demanding limited growth in funding for various programs. Overall state spending through the general fund will grow by less than 1 percent in the new fiscal year, according to the Department of Finance.
But Democrats did get some of what they wanted, with the creation of a tuition subsidy for students from families earning less than $150,000 who attend University of California or California State University schools.
The budget also provides $143 million in new funding for mental health services to create crisis and triage positions throughout the state.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, had pushed for the increased mental health funding, and said it was “the first time in state history” that the budget had the most new money — after education spending — going toward mental health services.
Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, got his way in creating the tuition break for UC and CSU students from middle-class families. Starting in 2014, students from families that make less than $150,000 will get tuition breaks that will grow over four years to a 40 percent reduction of the overall cost.
“We’re in a position to focus on long-term planning,” Pérez said.
The health care bills that Brown signed take California another step toward leading the country in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Diana Dooley attended the bill signing and said the national effort was something that “the president made possible, but we have to make real in California.”
— Reach Wyatt Buchanan at firstname.lastname@example.org