SACRAMENTO -- The framework of a budget agreement between Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature came together Thursday with a crucial deal allowing home care aides for the elderly and disabled to collect overtime pay.
Brown had backed a plan to cap the workers' hours to address a new federal mandate that the workers receive OT after 40 hours a week. But with just days to go until Sunday's midnight deadline to pass a budget, Democrats convinced him that doing so would threaten the stability of the entire In-Home Supportive Services program.
San Jose resident Fred Wikkeling was speechless when he got word of the deal.
He cares for his 87-year-old mother, who speaks Dutch. Had the cap on home aides' hours been imposed, he said, it would have been almost impossible to find a replacement who could talk to his mom.
"What we all thought was going to be a terrible thing is turning out to be a huge plus, for workers and for the people they care for," said Wikkeling, 62, whose income will go up close to $2,000 a month. "This is so big."
Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said: "I'm glad that the administration is with us on this. The idea that we would cap the amount of hours to get around the federal requirement that we pay overtime was a non-starter. It didn't work in the real world."
While the approximately $108 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 largely reflects Brown's belief in fiscal prudence, the Legislature also sold the frugal governor on modest spending increases for preschools for low-income students and a long-term plan for financing California's bullet train.
Late Wednesday, the Legislature's joint budget committee announced an agreement to use $264 million to expand access to high-quality preschools. The money will pay for 11,500 new slots for low-income 4-year-olds next school year and 31,500 slots in future years.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, called the compromise "a huge step forward," even though it falls far short of his vision for universal preschool in California.
"The way you create something big is to gain a major toehold and gain the commitments necessary to ensure that toehold results in implementing the full vision," said Steinberg, who will be forced to leave the Legislature this year because of term limits.
After months of negotiations, Brown and Democratic legislative leaders also nailed down a plan for spending the cap-and-trade proceeds collected annually from the state's worst polluters in the fight against greenhouse gases and climate change.
The governor wanted to allocate a third of the fees -- which will total about $850 million next fiscal year -- to construction of the bullet train. Democrats in the Legislature wanted to set aside half as much.
They agreed to use a quarter of the money for high-speed rail and a third for construction of affordable housing near "green" transit, such as light rail.
Republicans blasted the plan. "We need to stop spending money on high-speed rail," Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, said bluntly.
One thing lawmakers couldn't reach a deal on was Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. Legislative Democrats wanted to increase them, but Brown refused.
"This is a hard pill to swallow. When we talk about compromise it's give and take, but this is more like a smackdown," said Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who said he would "begrudgingly" support the decision not to increase the Medi-Cal reimbursements.
The deal allowing in-home care workers to earn overtime pay came together in the final hours of talks, according to sources with knowledge of the closed-door discussions. Brown had initially resisted Democrats' calls to fund overtime because In-Home Supportive Services is one of the state's fastest-growing programs, and the cost of overtime pay in future years could skyrocket, the Brown administration said.
Started 40 years ago, IHSS is designed to allow disabled and elderly people who might otherwise have been institutionalized to live in their homes safely and with dignity for far less money than in nursing and group homes. Almost three-quarters of workers are related to the people they care for.
The state estimates that 464,000 people will get help from IHSS aides during the fiscal year that starts in July. About 11 percent of them -- roughly 50,000 people --- are authorized to get more than 160 hours of assistance per month, the threshold that triggers overtime for their caregivers.
Brown agreed to the $180 million cost of overtime pay for home aides--a figure that will grow to roughly $350 million once the new federal rules are in effect for a full calendar year--and in return, he asked Democrats to back regulations that will ensure the integrity of the program and prevent fraudulent overtime payments.
But Brown wouldn't budge on another item Democrats and disability rights advocates sought: the elimination of a 7 percent cut in IHSS participants' hours that went into effect last year when the state's finances were less rosy.
Talks will continue over the next several weeks on legislation that seeks to eliminate the cut by finding close to $190 million in cost savings elsewhere.
Lawmakers have scheduled a special Sunday session to pass the budget.