SACRAMENTO (AP) — Lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday with a wide-ranging agenda that includes revisions to school funding, gun control laws and environmental regulations.
The Senate and Assembly opened their two-year session with Democrats firmly in control of both houses. The party's supermajorities will allow them to approve taxes and fees without GOP support, as well as override gubernatorial vetoes.
Republicans say they want to ensure that the sales and income tax increases voters approved in November through Proposition 30 are spent on education, as Gov. Jerry Brown and supporters promised during the election campaign.
Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said Republicans should be the "conscience" of the Legislature on spending and other reforms. She said she is encouraged by the proposals to make changes to education policy and funding.
"It's something that I've always hoped we could do as legislators, and that is spend more time focusing on really important issues and less on trivial little bills that seem to get in the way of other things," Conway said.
In addition to education, Conway said priorities include revisions to an $11 billion water bond that is set to go before voters in 2014 and modernizing the state's complex environmental regulations.
The statewide sales tax increase and an income tax increase on those making $250,000 a year or more are expected to generate an estimated $6 billion a year. That revenue and an improving economy mean there is likely to be less drama surrounding the state budget proposal Brown will release later this week.
The state's nonpartisan budget analyst projects a deficit of less than $2 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and the possibility of surpluses after that.
But those rosier financial forecasts could lead to more clashes between the frugal Democratic governor and members of his own party who are eager to restore services after years of deep budget cuts.
Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, said she wants to ensure that Democrats "fulfill their promise" to spend Proposition 30 revenue on education.
"Certainly in all of their campaigning for it that's what they were promising, so as Republicans we need to make sure that they fulfill that promise, that they be wise fiscal managers of the tax money that they've been given by the public and not start to go out on another spending frenzy," she said.
Brown also is expected to call a special legislative session to address administrative changes required to fully implement the national Affordable Care Act.