California_Capitol_Building

By Jim Sanders
jsanders@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, May. 6, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, May. 6, 2013 – 7:56 am

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers are on a collision course over restoring cuts to California’s safety net, marking a key test of vows to hold the line on state spending.

Brown is set to release a revised budget proposal this month, and state revenue is running about $4.5 billion over projections, lending momentum to efforts to boost programs for the poor or needy.

Legislation and ideas abound at the Capitol for bolstering the safety net, targeting adult dental care, mental health, welfare assistance, child care, college aid and affordable housing.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg touts restoring Medi-Cal dental benefits and boosting mental health programs as two personal priorities.

“There is no shame, in fact there’s pride, in fighting to restore cuts to those who have suffered the most during the budget crisis – the poor, the elderly and the disabled,” Steinberg said.

“But we can only restore programs if there is money,” he added. “And we don’t know whether or not there will be new money.”

State finance department spokesman H.D. Palmer, representing the Brown administration, said the governor’s basic tenet has been that past cuts must be retained to help pay down debt and ensure future budget stability.

The notion of a $4.5 billion windfall is illusory because much of it may not be available for more than one year and, besides, the vast majority of it must go to public schools and community colleges under Proposition 98, Palmer said.

“I can understand that a lot of people are looking at the current revenue numbers and jumping to the conclusion that that’s money with no strings attached,” Palmer said. “That’s not the case.”

Jason Sisney of the Legislative Analyst’s Office said the $4.5 billion revenue bump may be a one-time occurrence due largely to actions taken by some wealthy Californians to shift 2013 earnings to late 2012 amid the threat of a federal tax hike. Almost all of that new money, perhaps 85 percent to 95 percent, can be spent only for education, he said.

Even before the revenue picture becomes clear, however, battle lines are forming over the safety net.

Democrats “love to fund, they hate to cut, and when they feel like they have money, they’re going to spend it,” said Senate GOP leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar.

Witnesses at a Senate budget subcommittee hearing Thursday pressed for restoring Medi-Cal adult dental care, saying that budget cuts have led to a system that pulls teeth in an emergency but does little or nothing to fix cavities and perform root canals.

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