State lawmakers are pushing a $199.6 billion budget that takes on homelessness, boosts education, expands state reserves and is on time for the sixth straight year — and it still ticks off people from all points of the political spectrum.
Technically, the 2018-19 spending plan, expected to be approved by Gov. Jerry Brown, is an amalgamation of 25 separate pieces of legislation, including 14 bills that were sent to Brown this week. Though spending will increase in virtually all categories, the budget also calls for a maximum contribution to the states rainy day fund, about $13.8 billion, something Democrats and some Republicans applauded.
“This state budget is both balanced and prudent,” said Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside. “It embodies our commitment to a better California through significant investments in K-12 and higher education; child care; support for Californias small businesses; and measures to combat homelessness.”
Approval for the budget came a day before failure to act would have triggered a cut in lawmakers pay and, in a heavily blue state, it drew stronger support from Democrats than it did from Republicans.
Critics say that despite the projected revenue surplus amid a growing economy, the budget ignores long-term problems and fails to plan for leaner times. With the states high pension and retiree medical debts, and projects such as the bullet train, state water pipelines and general infrastructure improvement on the horizon, some envision a coming day of reckoning for state finances.
“Our balance sheet is still in terrible shape,” said State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who served on the budget conference committee and advocated for using any surplus to make early pension payments or fix failing infrastructure. “Our kids are going to inherit all this debt. Sacramento needs to get in front of it, and it didnt with this budget.”
Though several elements of the budget will be voted on next week, here are some highlights in the current package:
EDUCATION GETS BUMP
The biggest chunk of the state budget, a record $78.4 billion, will go toward education. Thats a 66 percent increase from where California education spending stood in 2002 ($47.3 billion, according to state data.)
In grade schools, the new budget will mean about $1,000 more per year in per-student spending, money that still leaves California among the lowest in the country by that measure. The budget also sets aside more money for the California State University system (an extra $260 million) and the University of California ($210 million more than a year ago) and new money for online programs connected to the states community colleges (about $110 million, according to state data.)
Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, who chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee, was pleased with the funding levels for the UC and Cal State systems.
“The budget originally proposed by the governor significantly underfunded these institutions, which would have been detrimental to our universities and our students,” he said. “The final budget agreement not only fully funds these institutions, but also allocates an additional $5 million to the UC, and an additional $120 million to the CSU for enrollment growth.
“At a time when more and more of Californias students graduate from high school college-ready, it is critical to invest in these institutions to ensure all students have access to quality higher education.”
POOR GET A HAND
Some of the spending will go to help people in poverty, the chronically ill and the homeless.
For example, California will expand by 13,000 the number of people eligible for subsidized health care. Also, people on CalWorks — the states welfare program — will get a 10 percent raise starting next year. Both measures are part of a long-term effort in the state to boost the incomes of the poorest Californians to roughly 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
The state also will set aside up to $600 million to fund anti-homelessness projects throughout the state. The money could be used by cities and counties to pay for housing vouchers, new low-income construction projects, and other programs aimed at one of Californias fastest growing subgroups — homeless.
Of that total, Los Angeles city and county will receive an estimated $166 million combined to combat homelessness. Orange County, Santa Ana, and Anaheim could cumulatively get nearly $23 million. Riverside city and county could get $9.7 million. And San Bernardino city and county could receive $9.3 million.
“For state legislators to put forward that amount of money, it tells you that people are realizing that this is really a crisis and its not going away,” said Paul Leon, co-founder and president of the Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit that helps Orange Countys homeless.
“The question is how cities and counties will leverage that money. Some will do a good job. Others, Im not so sure.”
TOPICS OF INTEREST
The budget also offered money for issues that have been much discussed but un-funded in recent years.
Rape kits, for example — which have made headlines as police agencies and prosecutors have complained that too many kits remain unprocessed — will get some funding. The budget sets aside $6.5 million be funneled to law enforcement to pay for testing, while another $1 million could be set aside to find out how many rape kits remain untested in California.
“As the author (a bill) that eliminated the statute of limitations on rape in California in 2016, I am thrilled that our state budget finally includes funding to both determine the number of untested rape kits and to promptly test backlogged rape kits,” said state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino.
“Rape victims deserve equal access to justice and testing the rape kits associated with their cases will help to identify and prosecute rapists and keep them off our streets and behind bars where they belong.”
IN THE BANK?
Because California taxes wealth more than many states, the state budget rises and falls with Wall Street.
As a result, in recent years, lawmakers — particularly since Brown started his second stint as governor, in 2011 — have been focused on boosting state reserves. The idea is to have money in the event of a natural disaster or if the economy reverses course as it did during the Great Recession of 2007 and 08. By some estimates, the new budget will create a reserve fund of about $15.9-billion by next summer, bigger than the total annual budgets of 33 states.
Some lawmakers have suggested it is time to cut taxes and return some of that money to voters.
“Even when the state is supposedly flush with cash they still cannot resist the reflexive urge to nickel-and-dime hard-working Californians,” said Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga. “Rather than give the people of this state a break and reward them for building a strong economy, this budget doubles down on the policies that make California so unaffordable.”
Others say the rainy day fund reflects discipline, if not brand-building, by Democrats once accused of profligate spending.
“This balanced, on-time budget strengthens Californias fiscal stability, addresses many of the key challenges facing our state, and makes important investments in our future,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood.
“I think Id be justified in saying thats a pretty impressive triple crown.”