California budget would fund high-speed rail, free preschool

by Reuters
Sunday, 15 June 2014 08:00 GMT

By Robin Respaut

June 15 (Reuters) - California lawmakers are expected to approve a $156.4 billion budget plan on Sunday that includes funding for a controversial high-speed rail project as well as money for pre-K education for low-income children while also chipping away at the state's debt, officials said.

The budget, a compromise deal that sets aside money for a so-called rainy day fund in line with Governor Jerry Brown's vision of fiscal restraint, follows months of political wrangling among Democrats seeking to restore spending on social programs cut during the recession.

"For years California's budgets were about getting out of a hole," Democratic Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, of San Diego, said after a budget deal was reached on Friday. "This budget is about building a foundation for the future."

Lawmakers are set to meet at 4 p.m. on Sunday to vote on the budget in time for a midnight deadline to pass it.

It must still be signed into law by Brown, who last year used his line-item veto to kill some measures. On Friday, he praised the legislature for "a solid and sustainable budget" barely bigger than the $156.2 billion he had proposed in May.

California faces the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, in good financial shape, thanks to new taxes approved by voters and the resurgent economy. When Brown took over in 2011 after serving two terms from 1975 to 1983, the state faced an 18-month budget gap of $25 billion.

Brown's controversial high-speed rail project, a $68 billion effort opposed by Republicans, will receive $250 million in funding from the proceeds of the state's cap-and-trade program, under which the state collects a fee after polluters buy and sell their rights to emit carbon into the air.

As part of a compromise with Brown, lawmakers negotiated additional commitments for cap-and-trade funds, including money for affordable housing, mass transit and clean energy projects.

Other compromises included an expansion of public pre kindergarten for low-income 4-year-olds, a priority of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who represents Sacramento.

Lawmakers also plan to include a requirement that $1 billion of education funds be used for specific purposes, including implementing national Common Core curriculum standards, vocational education and assistance for school districts with a high percentage of disadvantaged students, said Assembly member Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat. (Editing by Sharon Bernstein, Bernard Orr)

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