Jerry Brown

California Gov. Jerry Brown discusses his revised state budget plan during a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento last month. On Tuesday, Brown and top Democratic lawmakers struck a deal on the budget. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

By Chris Megerian and Melanie Mason
June 17, 2015

Immigrant children who are in the country illegally would receive public healthcare coverage in California under a budget deal announced Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders.

An estimated 170,000 immigrants 18 and younger could qualify, marking another victory for advocates and lawmakers who have worked to make the state more welcoming to unauthorized residents.

“With this budget, we’re saying that immigrants matter, irrespective of who you are or where you’re from,” said state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

Democratic leaders also won more money for state-funded child care, preschool and dental care as well as a boost for public universities. But they gave up other spending they wanted and acceded to Brown’s revenue projection, which was about $3 billion lower than theirs.

The compromise — the product of what Brown described as “strenuous negotiations” — paves the way for a new budget to take effect July 1, the start of the next fiscal year. However, some work remains unfinished; the governor called for special legislative sessions to address road repairs and public healthcare.

The expansion of healthcare coverage to qualifying immigrant children would begin in May 2016, costing $40 million in the new budget and an estimated $132 million annually after that.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who had pushed for the change, described it as a “modest investment” that would prevent children from receiving their healthcare solely in emergency rooms.

“California once again paves the way while Washington, D.C., continues to create roadblocks for these communities,” Lara said.

The decision was denounced by Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports strict enforcement of immigration laws.

“This is just one more example of California paying huge bills for its continued efforts to accommodate illegal immigration,” Mehlman said.

“It forces the taxpayers to pay money to provide healthcare that could be going to other vital needs in the state,” he added. “And God knows there are many vital needs going unmet in the state.”

The final agreement was announced a day after the Legislature approved $117.5 billion in general fund spending, $2.2 billion more than Brown wanted. Continuing talks produced a final plan of $115.4 billion, only slightly larger than the Democratic governor’s original proposal.

A series of shuffles — such as adjusting a healthcare cost estimate, adding restrictions to a scholarship program and consolidating some administrative functions — freed up enough money for lawmakers to obtain higher funding in other areas.

“This is a sound and well-thought-out budget,” Brown said.

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