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Calif. Gov. Brown: State’s budget back in the black
Buoyed by higher taxes, spending rises $5B
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Riding a wave of new tax revenue, California’s spending plan for the coming fiscal year will rise by nearly $5 billion, a powerful indication that the state that came to symbolize fiscal mismanagement during the heart of the recession is emerging into brighter days.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday proposed a $97.6 billion general fund budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year that wipes out years of deficits and even includes a modest surplus.
The additional revenue increased the spending plan by 5 percent over the current year and helps the governor pour more money into public schools and universities.
The state’s budget shortfall stood at $25 billion when Mr. Brown took office two years ago.
“California today is poised to achieve something that has eluded us for more than a decade — a budget that lives within its means, now and for many years to come,” Mr. Brown said during a news conference at the Capitol.
A rebounding economy coupled with new revenue from the higher sales and income taxes voters approved last November have put the nation’s most-populous state on a healthier financial trajectory as it begins to turn the corner on an era of deep budget shortfalls and spending cuts to core programs.
California’s persistent budget woes came to represent the plight of states struggling through the recession as tax revenue declined steeply, leaving governors and state legislatures around the country little choice but to consider deep spending cuts or unpopular tax increases.
Mr. Brown took both approaches. He pushed an austerity message that forced cuts throughout state government during his first two years in office while persuading California voters to approve increases to the state sales tax and higher income taxes on the wealthy.
Despite the new revenue flowing in, the governor has warned his Democratic colleagues who overwhelmingly control both houses of the Legislature that they must not overplay their hand and spend too freely. The governor wants to build a reserve fund for future downturns to help smooth the type of boom-and-bust budget cycles that have become chronic in California.
“And I’m determined to avoid the fiscal mess that the last few governors had to deal with,” Mr. Brown said. “The way you avoid it is by holding the line, by exercising a common-sense approach to how we spend our money.”
His budget contains an $850 million surplus and even drew cautious praise from minority Republicans. GOP lawmakers had opposed Mr. Brown’s tax initiative and had refused to work with him a year earlier to raise taxes in exchange for pension overhauls.
Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell of Camarillo called the governor’s new blueprint a “realistic budget framework.” He said Republicans would try to ensure that the state’s two four-year higher-education systems do not raise tuition for at least seven years — the length of time the higher income taxes on the wealthy will remain in effect.
Spending cuts are still expected in some areas, such as the courts, while health care programs and social services are expected to see no increases in spending.
Mr. Brown’s budget proposal now goes to the Legislature and will be revised in May after the state gets a clearer picture of its tax revenue in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Lawmakers have until June 15 to send their budget plan to the governor.
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