SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders on Thursday agreed to replace the rainy-day fund measure on the November ballot with a bipartisan plan that would set aside revenue of up to 10 percent of California’s general fund and dedicate money to paying down the state’s massive debts and liabilities.
The Legislature is expected to vote on the replacement measure next week. It would then supersede the measure already slated to go before voters in the general election.
The governor’s office announced the deal jointly with all four Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. GOP support was essential because a ballot measure requires two-thirds votes in both houses of the Legislature, and Democrats have lost their supermajority in the Senate because three members of their party who are ensnared in legal trouble have been suspended. The deal doesn’t require the governor’s signature.
Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway said the deal that emerged Thursday reflects long-standing GOP priorities.
“It will ensure that money is actually saved, that it cannot be siphoned off to grow government, and that we will have resources to pay down debt and protect core priorities in tough years,” the Republican from Tulare said in a statement.
Republicans also wanted to ensure that extra tax revenue during good years would not be siphoned off to create new, ongoing programs that the state can’t afford when the economy sours.
The measure now on the ballot, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4, grew out of a 2010 bipartisan budget compromise that included then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That version creates a rainy-day fund requiring a 3 percent annual contribution from the state’s general fund.
The new version cuts that to 1.5 percent but calls for the fund to be replenished with additional revenue from capital gains taxes during boom years. At any time, the rainy-day fund could grow to a maximum of 10 percent of the general fund.
For the next 15 years, half of the rainy-day fund would be dedicated to paying down state debt and liabilities, estimated at $340 billion.
Put in context of California’s current budget of about $100 billion, the state would set aside at least $1.5 billion rather than the $3 billion currently demanded. Half of that money could go to plugging shortfalls in public pensions. The state could put aside billions more as Californians pay taxes on investments in a booming stock market, and keep adding to the rainy-day fund until it hits $10 billion.
Transfers to the rainy-day fund could be suspended and additional withdrawals could be made during a recession, but only within certain limits. That was a priority for Democrats, who wanted flexibility to tap the money when needed during a rough economy.
The deal also creates a reserve for education spending, which wouldn’t operate until schools funding is fully restored to pre-recession levels.
“While we certainly don’t wish to return to the past, we cannot stagnate in the present either,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Instead of stockpiling money while ignoring looming debt, this smarter approach locks the state into saving and attacks our wall of debt and unfunded liabilities.”