Budget committee scales back education proposals

The Associated Press
Saturday June 23, 2001

SACRAMENTO — State budget negotiators approved a massive education package Friday that scales back new spending proposals but still increases school funding by $2 billion. 

After three weeks of closed-door meetings and sporadic talks, the Legislature’s budget conference committee Friday whisked through its toughest issue – spending for elementary and secondary schools – in less than 30 minutes. 

The package eliminates Gov. Gray Davis’ $65 million proposal to extend the middle school year and scales back a performance awards program for schools with the highest test scores. 

It includes $300 million to help schools pay rising energy bills. If approved in a final budget plan, each school would receive at least $16,000 to offset electricity costs and launch conservation programs. Those with the most students would receive the largest sums. 

The package also contains $220 million for a grant program for low-performing schools. 

Davis proposed $570 million in cuts to the education spending plans he proposed in May to boost the state’s reserve fund from $1.1 billion to $3 billion. The governor called for the increased reserves after analysts warned that a sagging economy and stock market could cost the state billions in revenues. 

The committee’s education spending trims fell $237 million short of the reduction the governor proposed. 

Still, public schools and community colleges will receive $4.4 billion above the minimum they are guaranteed by state law and $2 billion more than they received in the current fiscal year. 

In other actions Friday, the committee: 

• Scaled back a proposed $63 million package aimed at improving foster care programs to $18 million. 

• Added $60 million in new spending for higher education. Department of Finance officials said Friday that Davis plans to veto the increases. 

• Approved a measure to exempt certain adults from a requirement to be fingerprinted and photographed in order for the children they live with to receive public aid such as food stamps. 

• Agreed to remove a September sunset date for the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants, which extends state welfare benefits to legal immigrants. 

The committee planned to meet into the night Friday to wrap up remaining issues and send a $102.9 billion budget plan to the full Legislature early next week. 

Davis has said he will sign a final 2001-02 budget before July 1, when it goes into effect. However, Republican lawmakers have promised to hold up the budget if an automatically triggered quarter-cent sales tax increase is not removed.