Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, talks with reporters after a budget meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, June 10, 2013. Steinberg said that Democratic leaders are closing in on a budget deal that maintains fiscal balance for California.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature’s Democratic leaders are close to a state budget deal that maintains fiscal balance, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and other lawmakers said Monday ahead of a budget committee vote on many of the outstanding issues.
Steinberg emerged from a meeting with Brown and Assembly Speaker John Perez at the state Capitol and said no significant sticking points remain just days ahead of the budget’s legislative deadline.
“It’s almost there, but not yet,” he said.
He described the talks as positive and productive, and said he expected no problem hitting the Saturday deadline for the Legislature to send its budget for the coming fiscal year to the governor’s office.
“We are well on our way. A few details left,” Steinberg said.
One of the main points of contention had been which revenue estimates to adopt — the one the Democratic governor used in proposing his $96.4 billion revised budget in May or the one from the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, which was $3.2 billion higher.
Throughout budget negotiations, Brown has resisted using the higher revenue projection, demanded school funding reform and sought to limit state spending in expanding health care coverage for the poor.
Democratic leaders, who control both houses of the Legislature, countered with their own proposals to restore social services that had been cut in recent years by taking advantage of the state’s higher tax revenue. An improving economy and the sales and income tax increases approved by voters last fall have brightened the state’s budget picture considerably.
Lawmakers settled on Brown’s more conservative projection, said Sen. Mark Leno, who is co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Conference Committee. He said Democrats and the governor would revisit some of the lawmakers’ spending priorities in the new year, when he hoped higher tax revenue would materialize.
“It doesn’t close the door on anything,” Leno said of the lower revenue estimates as he opened the committee’s hearing Monday.
The committee was meeting through the night and voting on key aspects of the budget plan.
Democratic lawmakers want to restore dental care for the poor, welfare assistance and other programs cut during the recession. They also had been negotiating with Brown over his proposal to change the education funding formula.
Lawmakers have until the end of the week for a full vote to finish out their version of California’s annual spending plan for the governor to sign.
Unlike in recent years, the budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 contains a surplus. That has emboldened Democrats to try to restore past cuts at the same time Brown is trying to keep a lid on spending.
The governor succeeded in resisting the higher revenue projection, saying it relied too much on volatile capital gains. He also demanded school funding reform and vowed to resist pressure to restore services that were cut or eliminated during the recession.
Brown is pushing for a new K-12 funding formula that would channel additional money to school districts with high levels of low-income and non-English speaking children. Lawmakers, many who represent suburban districts, wanted instead to modify that plan to account for schools with low-income students, even if they attend more affluent districts.
The governor also wants to give school districts more control of how to spend state aid.
Brown and lawmakers were trying to hammer out details of how the state will expand its Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, to some 1.4 million Californians. The state has opted to expand the program under President Barack Obama’s health care reforms.
The federal government will pay the entire amount of the expanded coverage from 2014 to 2016, gradually reducing that to a 90 percent share.
The governor proposed to cut local government support for Medi-Cal by $300 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year and up to $1.3 billion in 2015-16. Brown argued the state would be paying twice if it did not reduce those payments — for providing coverage under the Medicaid expansion that will be funded by the federal government while maintaining the same level of county support for indigent health care services.
County officials and health care advocates argued against the cuts because California will still have 3 million to 4 million uninsured residents requiring care after the Medicaid expansion.
Democrats in the Assembly led by Perez, D-Los Angeles, promoted a spending plan that increases welfare assistance, expands child care for the poor and gives more college aid to middle-class families.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, sought to restore dental care for the neediest, expand access to mental health and autism treatments, and foster job training through career technical education in high schools.
Both houses of the Legislature also want to restore some funding for California courts.
Lawmakers need only a simple majority vote to pass a budget. With Democrats controlling both houses, they can do that without Republican support.
Associated Press writers Don Thompson and Juliet Williams contributed to this report.