Brown Signs $156 Billion California Budget

     SACRAMENTO (CN) - California has an on-time, $156 billion budget that shores up beleaguered teacher pensions and funds high-speed rail - but falls short of hopes for full trial court funding, the state's chief justice said Friday.
     Governor Jerry Brown signed the 2014-2015 budget Friday, less than a week after striking a deal with the Legislature that includes $108 billion in general fund spending. The spending plan, which begins July 1, is a hybrid of the Brown administration's conservative revenue estimates and some legislative bit-chomping to increase spending in the wake of higher tax intake.
     Brown touted his 32-year goal to eliminate the state's underfunded liability in the State Teachers' Retirement System, or CalSTRS. Nearly $276 million will go into the pension plan next year, including contributions from taxpayers, teachers themselves and the school districts they work for.
     The budget also pays down some of the state's "Wall of Debt" by $10 billion and puts $1.6 billion into California's rainy-day fund, the first deposit since the economy began tanking in 2007.
     "This on-time budget provides for today and saves for the future," Brown said. "We're paying off the state's credit card, saving for the next rainy day and fixing the broken teachers' retirement system."
     The budget also uses the Golden State's greenhouse-gas cap-and-trade scheme to permanently fund Brown's dream of a high-speed rail network, with 25 percent of the polluter fees going to the floundering - and unpopular - project.
     But although the new budget earmarks an extra $40 million to the Judiciary for courthouse construction, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in a statement that for the second year in a row, "partial reinvestment in the judicial branch after five years of severe budget cuts is resulting in a reduction to access to justice."
     In a " budget blueprint " she unveiled last January, Cantil-Sakauye set a three-year funding goal of $1.2 billion and said the trial courts need $266 million more this year just to keep them afloat. She said Friday that falling short of full funding will result in "more disappointment, service reductions and delay for those who need our courts."
     "Going forward, we remain focused on our blueprint and the work needed to secure a careful restoration of funding in the judicial branch of government, not just for the next fiscal year, but for many years to come," Cantil-Sakauye said.