California Legislature approves $214.8 billion budget

California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers 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.

The spending plan was passed with separate votes by the state Assembly and Senate. It now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is expected to sign it in the coming days.

“What a luxury we have, to get to stand here and argue over where we should put our savings, how we should spend some of the additional money we have to support struggling Californians,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat.

Democrats in both chambers overwhelmingly backed the budget, while Republicans rejected it, arguing it spends money on the wrong priorities.

The massive bill, totaling more than 900 pages, divvies up tax dollars in the nation’s most populous state. Lawmakers must still pass more than a dozen other trailer bills to implement it.

The measures 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.

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 before 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 passed Thursday would make California 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 U.S. 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.

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