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California lawmakers OK budget over governor’s objections | National News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers on Monday passed a $300 billion operating budget over the objections of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, highlighting disagreements among Democrats about how to spend a record-breaking surplus that, by itself, is more than most other states spend in a year.

While Newsom does not support the Legislature’s spending plan, lawmakers sent the bill to his desk anyway because the California Constitution requires them to pass a budget by Wednesday or else they don’t get paid. Unlike most states, California lawmakers are full-time and get paid $119,702 per year.

Newsom and legislative leaders will continue negotiating with the goal of coming up with a spending plan they can all agree on before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature wants to spend more money than Newsom does on education and housing. The lawmakers’ plan would cover college tuition for 150,000 more students than Newsom would.

And lawmakers want to borrow about $1 billion per year and use it to help about 8,000 first-time buyers purchase a home by covering 20% of the price. The plan could potentially lower mortgage payments by about $1,000 per month in a state where the median home price hit a record high of $849,080 in March.

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“This is the budget that you ran for office for,” Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento, said Monday while urging lawmakers to vote for the bill.

Lawmakers say they can afford to do those things because California’s revenues have soared throughout the pandemic as the rich have gotten richer and pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes compared to other states. This year, California’s surplus — money left over once the state has fulfilled its existing commitments — is more than $97 billion.

But Newsom doesn’t like the Legislature’s plan because he says it would spend too much of the state’s surplus — money that is only available for one year — on things that must have more than one year of funding, mostly for schools and community colleges. The Legislature’s plan would spend $2.4 billion more for ongoing expenses than Newsom’s plan, a disparity that would grow to $5.6 billion by 2026.

While California has lots of money today, the Newsom administration fears the economy is showing signs of stress as stock prices fall and inflation keeps going up because of supply chain disruptions and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Given the financial storm clouds on the horizon, a final budget must be fiscally responsible,” said Anthony York, Newsom’s senior advisor for communications. “The Governor remains opposed to massive ongoing spending, and wants a budget that pays down more of the state’s long-term debts and puts more money into state reserves.”

Lawmakers disagree. They say the extra money they want to spend is small, accounting for less than 1% of total spending. Plus, legislative leaders noted Monday that their plan includes “record-high reserves” — about $700 million more than Newsom proposed — “to protect California during future economic slowdowns.”

This type of disagreement is typical in California, where governors usually see their role as stopping the progressive Legislature from spending too much money.

But Newsom’s plan has its own problems. It would leave the state about $25 billion over a constitutional limit on spending over the next two years, a situation the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says could push the state over a “fiscal cliff” that could force budget cuts even if state revenues continue to grow.

The Newsom administration has downplayed those concerns, noting their plan would spend 95% of the budget surplus on one-time expenses — money that could be pulled back in an emergency.

One thing Newsom and legislative leaders can agree on is they want to give a portion of the budget surplus back to taxpayers to help them pay for record-high gas prices. But they can’t agree who should get the money, and how much they should get.

Newsom wants to send checks of up to $800 to everyone who has a car registered in the state. The Legislature wants to send $200 checks to people who have taxable income below a certain level — $125,000 for single people and $250,000 for couples.

Newsom’s plan would cost $11.5 billion and taxpayers might get the checks a little faster because the money would come on a debit card. The Legislature’s plan would cost $8 billion, but it wouldn’t benefit the wealthy.

“We should be supporting those families and households, middle class and below, that would be really struggling from these costs versus those with incomes for whom this would not be as much of a problem,” said state Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley and chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee.

Republicans don’t like either plan. Instead, they favor a suspension of the state’s gas tax, which at 51.1 cents-per-gallon is the second highest in the nation.

“There’s nothing in today’s proposal to bring immediate relief for Californians, said Assemblymember Vince Fong, a Republican from Bakersfield and vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. “As the state coffers grow, family bank accounts are shrinking and Californians consistently pay more and more to Sacramento and get pennies back temporarily. That is not relief.”

This story has been updated to correct that Assemblymember Vince Fong is from Bakersfield, not Fresno.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Israeli settlers at risk of losing special West Bank status | Politics

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank may soon get a taste of the military rule that Palestinians have been living under for 55 years.

If Israel’s parliament does not act, a special legal status accorded to the settlers will expire at the end of the month, with wide-ranging consequences. Lawyers who live in the settlements, including two members of Israel’s Supreme Court, will no longer be allowed to practice law. Settlers would be subject to military courts usually reserved for Palestinians and would lose access to some public services.

While few expect things to reach that point, the looming deadline has put Israel’s government on the brink of collapse and drawn dire warnings.

“Without this law, it would be a disaster,” said Israel Ganz, governor of the Benyamin Regional Council, a cluster of settlements just outside Jerusalem. “The Israeli government will lose any control here. No police, no taxes.”

For over half a century, Israel has repeatedly renewed regulations that today extend a legal umbrella to nearly 500,000 settlers — but not to the more than 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. After failing to pass on Monday, the bill will be brought for another vote in the Knesset next week in a last-ditch effort to save the governing coalition — and the legal arrangement.

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The law underpins separate legal systems for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank, a situation that three major human rights groups say amounts to apartheid. Israel rejects that allegation as an attack on its legitimacy.

“This is the piece of legislation that enables apartheid,” said Jessica Montell, director of the Israeli human rights group HaMoked, which provides legal aid to Palestinians.

“The whole settlement enterprise depends on them enjoying all the rights and benefits of being Israelis even though they are in occupied territory.”

An overwhelming majority in the Knesset support maintaining the separate systems. The main reason the bill didn’t pass was that the nationalist opposition — which strongly supports it — paradoxically refused to vote in favor in an attempt to bring down Israel’s broad-based but fragile coalition government. In a similar vein, anti-settlement lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation to keep the coalition afloat.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has built more than 130 settlements there, many of which resemble small towns, with apartment blocks, shopping malls and industrial zones. The Palestinians want the West Bank to form the main part of their future state. Most countries view the settlements as a violation of international law.

Israel refers to the West Bank by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria, and considers it the heartland of the Jewish people. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett supports settlement expansion and is opposed to Palestinian statehood. Israel officially views the West Bank as disputed territory whose fate is subject to negotiations, which collapsed more than a decade ago.

The emergency regulations, first enacted in 1967 and regularly renewed, extend much of Israeli law to West Bank settlers — but not to the territory itself.

“Applying the law to the territory could be considered as annexing the territory, with all the political consequences that Israel did not want to have,” said Liron Libman, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a former top Israeli military prosecutor.

Failure to renew the bill by the end of this month would have far-reaching consequences.

The Israel Bar Association requires lawyers and judges to reside in the country. Without the law’s carve-out, settlers would not be able to practice law in Israeli courts. That would include two Supreme Court justices, one of whom recently upheld an order to forcibly relocate hundreds of Palestinians.

The bill’s lapse could also result in more settlers who run afoul of the law being tried in military courts — something Israel authorities have long tried to reserve for Palestinian suspects.

The settlers could lose their ability to use national health insurance for treatment inside the West Bank, and the ability to update their status in the population registry and get national ID cards — something routinely denied to Palestinians.

The law also provides a legal basis for Israel to jail thousands of Palestinians who have been convicted by military courts in prisons inside Israel, despite international law prohibiting the transfer of prisoners out of occupied territory. The law’s lapse could force Israel to move those prisoners back to the West Bank, where there is currently only one Israeli prison.

The various consequences are seen as so catastrophic that many Israelis expect the bill to pass or the government to be replaced. It’s also possible that Israeli authorities, who often bend to the settlers’ demands, will find workarounds to blunt the worst effects.

“I’m not worried,” said Ganz, the settler leader. “It’s like when you owe the bank 1 million dollars, you are worried about it, but when you owe 1 billion, the bank manager is worried.”

Asked if the separate legal systems amount to apartheid, Ganz said: “I agree with you, 100%.”

His preferred solution is that Israel annex what’s known as Area C, the 60% of the West Bank where, under interim peace accords, Israel already exercises complete control. Area C includes the settlements, as well as rural areas that are home to some 300,000 Palestinians, according to the U.N.

Most Palestinians live in Areas A and B — scattered, disconnected population centers where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule.

“It’s strange that different populations in the same area have different laws,” Ganz said. “So we have to bring Israeli law to everyone here in Area C.”

Two years ago, Israel’s then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu flirted with annexation before putting it on hold as part of an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations.

The Palestinians, and much of the international community, view annexation as a violation of international law that would deal a fatal blow to any hope for a two-state solution, still widely seen internationally as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu, now opposition leader, and his allies strongly support the West Bank bill but hope its defeat will speed his return to power. The coalition cannot pass it on its own because a handful of lawmakers — mainly Palestinian citizens of Israel — refuse to vote for it.

The law may have been designed with an eventual partition in mind. But many Palestinians see its longevity as proof that Israel was never serious about a two-state solution.

“They could have easily undone the occupation by just not passing this law, time and again,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former adviser to the Palestinian Authority. “It gets passed by the left and it gets passed by the right. That’s why this idea of two states is such a fiction.”

Associated Press reporter Alon Bernstein in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.