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Anti-poverty bills may pile up on Governor Brown's desk

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 23:  California Gov. Jerry Brown delivers a keynote address during the 2011 Pacific Coast Builders Conference on June 23, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  California Gov. Jerry Brown delivered his address as State legislators scramble to revise a budget that Gov. Brown vetoed.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Governor Jerry Brown has faced criticism he's not doing enough for California's poor.

As legislative deadlines near, a handfuls of bills aimed at aiding the poor are advancing through the state legislature this week.

Among them, a bill that would raise the minimum wage in California to $13 an hour by 2017, a bill that would widen welfare eligibility to parents who have children while receiving benefits, and a bill providing health care benefits to undocumented immigrants.

There's also child care subsidies, low-income tax credits, and AB 1335, a bill that would add a $75 fee to some real estate transactions and use the funds to build affordable housing. 

"Poverty is a centerpiece of what the legislature sees as their responsibility to take on," said Peter Woiwode of the California Partnership, a group that advocates for low-income Californians. "There's more activity this year, both more ideas of what needs to happen as well as more momentum."

Woiwode and other activists have staged dozens of demonstrations at the Capitol in the past few months, urging lawmakers to revoke the major cuts to social services that happened during the Recession. 

"There is a pent up demand in various constituencies to fix a lot of congenital problems in health care, in social security, in SDI," said Barbara O'Connor, professor of communications at California State University, Sacramento and a longtime political analyst.

With California finally on stable economic ground, everyone wants to fund programs they care about, she said. 

"There are a lot of people around the state, not just Democrats, who say this is a long-standing issue, we have the excess capital now to deal with it," she said.

The legislature will likely pass many of these bills, she said. But even with a surplus, there's limited funds to pay for them.

"Somebody's got to adjudicate which ones can we afford now, what can we afford to defer or partially fund, and my suspicion is that'll be the governor and he will do it with his blue pencil," O'Connor said, of Governor Jerry Brown's veto power.

Thus far, Brown has shown more interest in saving for the future than spending now, much to the chagrin of people like Woiwode, who see this is an opportunity to invest in needed programs.

Brown, O'Connor said, has a different lens.

"He encountered a situation when he first came on as governor when the state was in dire financial straights," she said. And that's a tough memory to shake. 

The governor's Department of Finance Spokesman H.D. Palmer, said Brown is proud of his track record when it comes to poverty issues.

"If you look at what the governor's record has been and what he's proposed, he has put a serious focus on those Californians who are in the low income strata," Palmer said. He pointed out Brown's supported shifts in school funding that favor low-income students, an expansion of medicare, an amnesty program for traffic fines, and most recently, a proposal to create a state low-income tax credit. 

But, he said, the governor won't be able to support every funding increase the legislature passes, which are premised on optimistic economic forecasts. 

"It's not a question of if there's going to be another economic downtown its when," he said. "The Governor wants to make sure we don't overcommit ourselves."

This story has been updated