By Kevin Yamamura
kyamamura@sacbee.com
Published: Thursday, Jun. 14, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Thursday, Jun. 14, 2012 – 9:51 am

Legislative Democrats are poised to send Gov. Jerry Brown a budget that avoids deep new cuts in safety-net programs while reducing state worker pay and taking funds from courts and counties.

To help bridge a $15.7 billion deficit, the Democratic governor has asked his own party’s lawmakers to overhaul welfare-to-work, slash in-home care and require low-income students to earn higher grades for scholarship aid.

But Democrats plan to reject more than $1 billion of those cuts, saying the state has already balanced enough prior budgets on the backs of poor Californians. They lack a deal with Brown, but lawmakers face a Friday constitutional deadline to send him a budget or lose their pay.

Legislative leaders released a proposal Wednesday that instead would nearly halve the size of Brown’s $1 billion reserve, recalculate education funding formulas to save $330 million and take $250 million in funds that counties expected to receive.

Democrats would adopt most of Brown’s budget proposal, including a 5 percent reduction in state worker pay that still must be negotiated with unions and an overhaul of expensive health care for low-income Medi-Cal patients with significant needs. They are also counting on voters raising taxes in November on sales and high-income earners to plug more than one-third of the budget gap.

“I strongly believe that the differences between the governor’s proposal and our proposal are bridgeable,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez. “Frankly, we’re not only on the same page as the governor, we’re in the same paragraph.”

In previous years, Democrats agreed to reduce the amount of time welfare recipients could receive aid, slashed SSI/SSP payments for low-income elderly and eliminated Medi-Cal services such as dental care for adults. Many of those cuts came when Democrats had to negotiate with Republicans and faced a more dramatic deficit problem after the recession.

But Democrats this time plan to adopt very few safety-net cuts that reduce the level of services below what the state now provides.

Democratic leaders said Wednesday that as long as they can show their budget is legitimately balanced this year and over the next three years, the state should avoid the types of cuts Brown wants.

“There is no reason to have to cut deeper to the people who can least afford it,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Democrats would reject Brown’s proposals to save money by requiring Cal Grant recipients to get higher grades to receive college aid. They would agree to cut off aid to students at marginal schools with high loan defaults and low graduation rates, and they would delay a grant cut for students at private colleges until 2013-14.

In child care, Brown wants to save $452 million largely by forcing low-income families to use lower-cost providers and cutting services for parents who don’t seek work. Democrats would reject those ideas but agree to reduce funding by $50 million to eliminate 6,600 child care slots. They also would save about $220 million with an accounting change that uses K-14 funds to pay for preschool for low-income children.

Democrats would continue a 3.6 percent reduction in hours for 423,000 in-home care recipients, though they consider it a “new” $59 million cut because it was set to expire June 30. Brown instead wanted a 7 percent cut overall and elimination of pay for domestic services such as laundry and housecleaning for caregivers who live with their recipients.

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