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California Governor Touts Turnaround In His Final Budget

California Gov. Jerry Brown gestures to a chart showing the increase spending...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: California Gov. Jerry Brown gestures to a chart showing the increase spending for school funding while discussing his revised $124 billion state budget plan, Thursday, May 11, 2017.

Gov. Jerry Brown took a victory lap Wednesday after he signed a $139 billion California budget that marks a stark turnaround from the financial crisis he inherited almost eight years ago.

Nearing the end of his second two-term stint as governor, Brown has celebrated the state's financial strength and thriving economy, even as President Donald Trump and his allies paint the nation's most populous state as in decline.

Brown has largely eschewed the pomp and circumstance of his office in recent years. But he savored the spotlight for his last budget, which he signed in front of cameras at a state office building in downtown Los Angeles.

"This is a budget that represents the collective effort of the people of California," Brown said. "This is the way we together, 40 million people, invest in our collective future."

RELATED: California Lawmakers Pass Budget Expanding Help For Poor

Brown said he took office in 2011 with a $27 billion deficit and pledged to fix it, adding that his signature Wednesday "fulfills that pledge and prepares us for the future."

The spending plan fills the state rainy day fund to its constitutional maximum and beefs up other reserve funds, boosting the state's total savings to $16 billion.

Even more money is set aside for specific one-time purposes such as building construction and maintenance — projects that could easily be canceled if the state runs into trouble.

Still, massive debts remain for pensions and retiree health care. And California relies immensely on income taxes collected from the wealthy — a revenue source that is extremely volatile.

Brown, who leaves office in January, appeared alongside Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, the top legislative Democrats with whom he negotiated the final budget agreement.

Brown has generally faced tougher criticism from his fellow Democrats than from Republicans, who dislike some specific spending items but welcome his efforts to restrain the growth of long-term budget commitments.

Democrats have advocated more aggressive efforts to help people living in poverty, including expanding the state Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, to cover some people living in the country illegally.

RELATED: Savings May Get Tougher As California Rainy Day Fund Fills

"Clearly there is more to do in these areas, but by investing in our people and saving for the future this budget gives us the tools we need to keep doing better," Rendon said.

The budget includes $138.7 billion from the state's general fund. Including bonds and special funds that must be used for specific purposes, total state spending tops $201 billion.

Brown did not use his line-item veto authority, which allows him to strike specific expenditures from the spending plan.

The budget boosts funding for higher education, staving off tuition increases, and increasing welfare grants that have been slow to return to their pre-recession levels. It creates more slots for subsidized child care and gives a raise to doctors and dentists who see low-income patients on Medi-Cal, which covers one in three Californians.

It also seeks to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis, a problem that has exploded on Brown's watch as more Californians struggle to find an affordable place to live.

Brown has tangled with the Trump administration on a range of issues, particularly immigration and the environment. Trump said California is "out of control," taking sharp aim at the state's efforts to the protect immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation. In a tweet urging supporters to back Republican John Cox to replace Brown, Trump referred to "High Tax, High Crime California."

Brown, by contrast, portrays California on a march toward the future and points to its thriving economy as evidence that high taxes and aggressive business regulations aren't an impediment.


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