California lawmakers were poised Thursday to approve a framework for a $214.8 billion operating budget, the first step in a spending package that seeks to address the teacher shortage, expand health care to some adults living in the country illegally and bolster the state’s top firefighting agency following the most devastating wildfire season in state history.
State law requires lawmakers to pass the framework by midnight Saturday. If they don’t, they don’t get paid. Lawmakers reached an agreement on Sunday night and scheduled a vote for Thursday, days ahead of the deadline.
“I do think it’s a good budget,” said state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee. “In every budget there is good and there is could be better.”
The massive bill, totaling more than 900 pages, directs tax dollars in the state’s most populous state. But lawmakers must still pass more than a dozen other bills to implement the budget. These “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 Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who 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 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 lawmakers are set to vote on Thursday would make California the first state to give some adults living in the country illegally government-funded health insurance.
Health care for people living in the country illegally is part of Democrats’ plan to eventually get everyone in California to have health insurance. But the policy 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,” said Republican state Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa, who noted he legally immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands in 1960.
The budget includes increases in public education, bringing the state spending to $12,018 for every student in K-12 public schools. It would give students studying to be teachers grants of up to $20,000 if they promise to teach subject matters impacted by the teacher shortage, including science, technology, math and engineering.
And following the states deadliest wildfire season in history, the spending 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 air tankers are free, but the state must pay to maintain and operate them.