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California's budget deficit is back, Gov. Jerry Brown says

John Myers, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

He also offered national leaders some advice as they weigh the merits of various federal subsidies.

"I don't think this country needs any more divisive kinds of moves that divide the poor and the rich, split the middle class and all those other things that will be the result if the rhetorical thrust, as suggested in the last few weeks, becomes the operational reality in Washington," Brown said.

But the governor offered a flash of his own version of audacious politics in asking legislators to approve an extension of California's system for buying and trading greenhouse gas pollution credits. That cap-and-trade program faces an uncertain future beyond 2020, as business groups have challenged its legality in court.

On Tuesday, Brown proposed that the Legislature officially reauthorize the program -- which would require a supermajority vote in both houses -- and hinted that he might otherwise block the spending of $2.2 billion in proceeds from the auctions of those credits.

"Given the fact that the federal government is going in the opposite direction," Brown said of the climate change debate, "I would think that Californians want to strengthen their own commitment."

Advocates for social services, though, saw the budget plan as lacking any new strength for the state's most needy.

"This is just a very conservative budget that really doesn't do anything to reduce poverty in the state of California," said Mike Herald of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who pointed to a lack of new money for welfare assistance efforts or affordable housing.

The governor's budget also offers less than expected for backers of Proposition 56, last year's tobacco tax increase earmarked to boost health care funding. While Brown pegs the tax's infusion of new money at $1.2 billion, it is offset by overall sagging tax revenues, and therefore, unlikely to boost the reimbursement rates sought by doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients.

Democrats, in general, sounded positive notes about the governor's proposal. One key source of early criticism, though, was his plan to phase out the scholarships offered to middle-class students attending University of California and California State University campuses. The budget proposes to renew scholarships for 37,000 current recipients, but offers no new assistance beyond that.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, said the plan, coupled with proposed tuition increases, would be unfair.

"We must work to keep college affordable for California students" he said, "and I will not support burdening them with higher fees and greater student debt."

In all, Brown's budget continues a long trend toward allowing additional spending while restraining the political desires of Democrats to do more. And while it doesn't spell out a specific need to respond to changes pushed by Trump and congressional Republicans that are on the horizon, the governor made clear that all budget decisions in Sacramento are in some way subject to the national debate.

"That's why we're going to have to hold on to our hat here," he said. "It's going to be a rough ride."

(Staff writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.)

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