Transportation, health care among list of unfinished work as California lawmakers wind down

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SACRAMENTO, California — While California state lawmakers announced last-minute deals on medical marijuana regulation and a scaled-back climate change proposal, they were likely to adjourn this year's legislative session Friday without completing major initiatives on transportation and health care financing.

So far, Democratic proposals to add a $65 vehicle registration fee and raise the cigarette tax by $2 per pack have been panned by Republicans, whose support they need to pass on a two-thirds vote.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego conceded that lawmakers have given up trying to find this week a long-term funding solution for fixing and maintaining California's roads and highways.

Instead, Atkins said the Legislature will form a special committee this fall to figure out how to pay for an estimated $59 billion backlog in state repairs over the next decade.

The announcement, which came late Wednesday, was disappointing to a broad coalition of business, labor and local governments pushing for bipartisan compromise.

"We would like to see a solution as soon as possible, but we want to see the right solution," said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, which represents private employers.

Lawmakers of both parties agree the state's transportation tax structure is out of date, leaving California's roads and bridges crumbling. They say they can't keep relying on a gas tax that hasn't risen in 20 years as more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles share the road.

The coalition proposed last month raising at least $6 billion a year by increasing gasoline and vehicle taxes, tapping revenue from the state's cap-and-trade fund and adopting state efficiencies and reforms.

Gov. Jerry Brown offered a scaled-down $3.6 billion-a-year spending plan, with some of the money to come from a $65 annual fee on vehicle registrations and increases in diesel and gas taxes tied to inflation. His plan included concessions sought by Republicans such as streamlining environmental reviews for infrastructure repairs and extending public-private partnerships.

That plan didn't receive adequate support, but the Democratic governor said there is time.

"The roads are going to get fixed," Brown said during a press conference. "It's just a question of when."

Lawmakers also are continuing to negotiate funding for Medi-Cal, the state's medical insurance program for the poor that has grown to cover roughly one in three Californians.

The governor has asked lawmakers to expand a tax now levied on health plans that contract with Medi-Cal to include most insurers regulated by the Department of Managed Health Care to generate at least $1.1 billion a year.

Lawmakers also want to find ways to increase funding to support the developmentally disabled.

Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-La Puente, chairman of the Senate's health care special session committee, led a hearing Thursday on his proposal to raise tobacco taxes and change how the state taxes health plans.

"I am very optimistic that we will hopefully, hopefully get something done by Friday," Hernandez said.

But Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, said "there's no need to tax California families."

The 2015 cycle has already been marked by setbacks for Democrats who control both houses of California's Legislature.

The majority party was forced to drop a mandate to cut oil use from their climate change proposal amid fierce opposition from business groups and oil companies. A scaled-down version of the bill, SB350, to increase renewable energy use to 50 percent has yet to be voted on.

A state senator announced Thursday that she's abandoning a second Democratic climate change proposal.

Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, said she would withdraw for this year a vote on her bill, SB32, which calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

"Unfortunately, the state Assembly and the administration were not supportive, for now, and we could not pass this important proposal," Pavley said in a statement.

The bill was a follow-up to Pavley's AB32, a landmark 2006 law signed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requiring California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Brown spokesman Gareth Lacy said the administration supported the initial bill but not amendments Pavley accepted, which would have weakened the California Air Resources Board's power to set vehicle emissions and fuel standards.

Late Thursday, lawmakers announced a deal on setting regulations to oversee California's nearly 20-year-old medical marijuana industry after receiving unprecedented cooperation from law enforcement, local governments, pot growers, patient groups, dispensary operators and even the governor.

Lawmakers were also close to sending Brown a contentious bill that would allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives, following the highly publicized case of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, a California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally take her life.

Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed to this report.

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