All budget deals are compromises in which not everyone gets everything they want. The agreement last week by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders strikes a good balance, given the state’s budget surplus, its pent-up needs and the prospect of the next recession.
The rank-and-file in the Legislature should sign off this week on the $200 billion budget. In total, the deal adds about $1 billion in spending to the budget that Brown proposed in May and addresses some key priorities:
▪ It doubles to $500 million the emergency aid for cities dealing with the homelessness crisis. The Big 11 Mayors, led by Sacramento’s Darrell Steinberg, praised the increase, which they say will fund immediate solutions to help people get off the streets.
▪ It includes a significant boost for California’s beleaguered public universities. In his May proposal, Brown offered $92 million each to the California State University and University of California, with no room for enrollment growth. Under this deal, the CSU system will get another $105 million in ongoing funding, plus $167 million for one-time expenses, while the UC gets another $177 million for one-time spending.
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▪ It increases funding by $360 million for CalWORKS, the state’s welfare program. It also expands eligibility for workers between 18 and 25 and those older than 64 for the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, an anti-poverty program that rewards work, and adds $10 million to promote the credit.
▪ It includes some money to tackle the backlog of untested rape kits that are surely allowing criminals to go free. There’s $6.5 million to fund a bill requiring the testing of all evidence kits going forward and $1 million for a bill mandating the first statewide count of untested kits.
▪ And the deal includes $90 million – $50 million more than Brown had allocated – for outreach and education leading up to the 2020 Census. Counting all Californians is crucial to getting the state’s fair share of federal funding and representation in Congress.
The compromise, however, doesn’t include lots of other requests. Some could be looked at again if revenues actually surge an additional $2.6 billion beyond Brown’s projections, as the Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts. For instance, it’s regrettable that the deal doesn’t add money to track and seize guns from felons, the mentally ill and others on the prohibited list, which has a backlog of 10,000 names.
Advocates are not happy that there aren’t sizable funding increases for health care, including Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented immigrants, or for universal preschool.
Brown held the line against creating costly new programs that would be on the chopping block in the next recession. He also won most of the reserves he wanted to protect the state’s finances, which depend heavily on volatile income and capital gains of the richest taxpayers.
As he proposed, the state’s “rainy day” fund will be filled to the maximum $13.8 billion by next July. The deal includes $2.2 billion of the $3.2 billion he wanted to set aside for natural disasters and other contingencies.
Unfortunately, the budget deal includes only a small down payment to help clean up contaminated water for tens of thousands of Californians. There’s $5 million to deal with lead in the water at day care centers, plus $23.5 million for other actions to be determined. It does not include a longer-term solution supported by Brown – a small statewide tax on drinking water that would have raised $140 million a year.
That’s a shame. It only delays the day of reckoning on what should be a basic commitment.
So there’s more work to do, but this budget is a reasonable plan to take advantage of growing tax revenues without committing to programs that may soon be unaffordable.