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School funding, tax changes on state Democrats' agenda

SACRAMENTO — Democratic lawmakers are starting the new year with a tail wind they haven't had in 130 years — supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature.

They also will be working with a governor of the same political party, a combination that means they can unilaterally increase taxes, pass emergency legislation and put constitutional amendments before voters.

As the legislative session opens Monday, Democrats' lengthy agenda includes state environmental laws, K-12 and higher education funding, and making sure California is prepared for federal health care reforms. No longer can Democrats blame minority Republicans for blocking their priorities.

"We have no more excuses," said state Sen. Michael Rubio of Bakersfield, a Democrat who is leading what promises to be a spirited debate over tweaking the state's pioneering environmental protection laws. "The debate changes because the answers are within our caucus."

Gov. Jerry Brown will set the stage on Thursday when he plans to release his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. California is on better financial footing than at any time since the recession began after voters approved Brown's Proposition 30, which will raise an estimated $6 billion a year from temporary tax increases.

The state's nonpartisan budget analyst projects a deficit of less than $2 billion through the next fiscal year and the possibility of surpluses after that.

The relatively rosy outlook after years of multibillion dollar deficits will let Brown call for changing the way the state provides money to schools. He is expected to propose sending more money to poorer districts and to programs for students learning English as a second language, while giving local districts more spending flexibility.

He also is expected to call a special legislative session to address administrative changes required to fully implement the national Affordable Care Act.

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