California Assembly Approves $214.8 Billion Budget

The California Assembly on Thursday approved a $214.8 billion state budget that would spend more on health care and education, bolster the state's top firefighting agency following devastating wildfire seasons, and boost state reserves.

"We know that at some point soon a recession will be coming," said Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting, the chamber's chief budget writer, as he highlighted the additions to the state reserves.

The Senate was expected to approve the budget later Thursday and send it to Gov. Gavin Newsom. Democrats overwhelmingly support it, while Republicans oppose it, saying it focuses on the wrong priorities.

The massive bill, totaling more than 900 pages, divvies up tax dollars in the nation's most populous state. But lawmakers must still pass more than a dozen other bills to implement the budget.

The "trailer bills" could contain important details, including implementing a monthly fee on cellphone bills to pay for upgrades to the 911 system.

The spending plan is the first under Newsom, who took office in January and has positioned himself as resistor-in-chief to Republican President Donald Trump's administration.

The Trump administration has sought to weaken former President Barack Obama's health care law by eliminating a tax on people who refuse to purchase private health insurance.

The proposed budget under Newsom would bring that tax back, using part of the money to make California the first state in the country to help middle class families pay a portion of their monthly health insurance premiums.

While the Trump administration continues to crack down on illegal immigration, the budget that California lawmakers are considering would make it the first state to give some adults living in the country illegally government-funded health insurance.

Health care for those people is part of Democrats' plan to eventually get everyone in California to have health insurance.

The proposal has angered Republican lawmakers, who argue it's not fair to tax people in the country legally for not buying health insurance while making people living in the country illegally eligible for taxpayer-funded health insurance.

"I just don't get the prioritization," Republican Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa said ahead of the vote. He noted he legally immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands in 1960.

The budget proposal includes increases in public education, which would bring state spending to $12,018 for every student in K-12 public schools. It would give grants of up to $20,000 to students studying to be teachers if they promise to teach subjects impacted by the teacher shortage, including science, technology, math and engineering.

Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi of Torrance said the state should invest even more in public schools, though he voted to pass the spending plan.

"Let's not be fooled by the dollar amount. We are just allocating the minimum," he said. "That is not bold, Mr. Governor."

Following the state's deadliest wildfire season in history, the plan includes $40.3 million for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to buy 13 new fire engines and hire 131 people to operate them.

It also includes $13.1 million to accept seven used C-130 air tankers from the federal government. The aircraft are free, but the state must pay to maintain and operate them.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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