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California lawmakers to vote on $125 billion budget

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Senate budget committee, discusses the state budget agreement reached between Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers on June 13, 2017, in Sacramento.
State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Senate budget committee, discusses the state budget agreement reached between Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers on June 13, 2017, in Sacramento.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

California lawmakers are scheduled to vote Thursday on a budget that increases spending on education and social services while imposing new financial restrictions on the University of California following a scathing audit.

The $125 million general fund spending plan, which was negotiated by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders, is expected to easily clear the Democratically controlled Legislature.

Brown called the spending plan "balanced and progressive." Legislative Democrats have praised a budget they said would help alleviate poverty and stand up for immigrants in the face of President Donald Trump's tough rhetoric on illegal immigration.

Republicans have blasted unrelated measures tucked into the budget. Those include a plan to change the rules for removing lawmakers from office, which could benefit a Democratic Orange County senator facing a recall, and a proposal to strip most authority from an elected tax board.

Thursday's vote caps weeks of negotiations after Brown, warning of a looming recession and likely federal budget cuts, proposed a budget that reversed spending approved last year and eliminated a middle class scholarship program. Brown also wanted to use $1.2 billion from a voter-approved tobacco tax increase to cover normal growth in the Medi-Cal program.

He relented on those demands, agreeing to use about half of the tobacco tax money to boost payments for doctors and dentists who care for people on Medi-Cal, the state health plan for the needy.

Brown and lawmakers also agreed to increase funding for after-school care, subsidized child care and legal assistance for immigrants facing deportation. They also agreed to restore full dental and eyeglass coverage for people on Medi-Cal.

The budget seeks to impose reforms on the University of California's budgeting and record-keeping following the release of an April audit found administrators hid tens of millions of dollars from the public as tuition rose. UC President Janet Napolitano disputes the findings, but $50 million will be withheld from the university system until she shows she's complying with the audit.

Some of the key areas in the $125 billion general fund spending plan that lawmakers will vote on Thursday and which would take effect July 1:

Tax credit for working poor

The budget makes more people eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides cash to the working poor. It allows people with an income up to about $22,000 to qualify, up from $14,161 for adults with three or more children. People could earn up to full-time minimum wage and still be eligible. It also allows people to qualify even if they are self-employed. More than 1 million more households could claim the credit up from fewer than 400,000 households in the 2015 tax year.

Tobacco tax

Doctors and dentists who treat low-income patients will get more money from a voter-approved $2-per-pack increase in tobacco taxes. About half the money will go to health care providers, including $465 million for doctors and dentists who treat patients in the state's Medi-Cal health insurance program for the needy. Another $50 million goes for family planning providers including Planned Parenthood and $27 million goes to raise rates at intermediate care facilities for those with developmental disabilities.

Medi-Cal benefits

The budget restores full dental and eyeglass benefits that were cut for people on Medi-Cal during the Great Recession. The program currently covers primary and preventive dental care as well as dentures for adults, but does not pay for root canals and other services. Expanded dental coverage would begin Jan. 1 at an annual cost of $73 million, while eyeglass coverage would resume in 2020.

Education funding

K-12 schools and community colleges get $3.1 billion more than this year, or $74.5 billion. Schools get another $1.4 billion through the Local Control Funding Formula, making it 97 percent complete. Higher education gets $14.5 billion in general fund money, including increases in Cal Grants and community college financial assistance. The budget also includes restrictions on the UC Office of the President following a scathing audit, and redirects money to increase enrollment by 500 graduate students and 1,500 undergraduates from California.

Infrastructure

The $2.8 billion from higher gas and vehicle taxes approved earlier this year will go to fixing roads and bridges and building mass transit lines. The budget also includes $111 million for dam safety evaluations and other flood planning in response to flooding last winter and problems with the Oroville Dam spillways.

Public safety

The budget targets the federal immigration crackdown by requiring that the state attorney general review each county, local or private detention facility where noncitizens are being held, and by blocking counties from signing new contracts or expanding existing contracts to detain immigrants. It limits county jails' use of video visits instead of in-person visits to inmates. It blocks suspending driver's licenses as a penalty for the driver failing to appear in court. It extends the state's new deadline to register a semi-automatic firearm that does not have a fixed magazine by six months, until July 1, 2018. It extends the current ban on firearm ownership by anyone convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors to include those facing arrest warrants.

Cannabis

Finally, $118 million goes to software, personnel and other costs to prepare for next year's start of marijuana sales to adults over 21. It creates a tax office in California's North Coast region, from San Francisco to the border with Oregon — a prime area for growing marijuana — to make it more convenient for farmers to file their taxes.