RIVERSIDE – Governor Jerry Brown’s revised budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, released last week seeks to increase spending on various programs over what was proposed earlier this year, but several Inland Empire lawmakers said the appropriations will only feed bureaucratic pursuits, while others were more optimistic.
The governor’ s May Revise boosts appropriations by about $2 billion to a total $183.4 billion, even as statewide revenues fall short of expectations.
“Over the past four years, we have increased spending by billions of dollars for education, health care, child care and other anti-poverty programs,” the governor said. “In the coming year, I don’t think even more spending will be possible. We have ongoing pressures from Washington and an economic recovery that won’t last forever.”
Sen. Jeff Stone, R-La Quinta, said the governor and Democratic leadership in the Assembly and Senate were giving no indication of a willingness to “control spending.”
“They’re misspending taxpayer dollars on things like a billion dollar boondoggle known as High Speed Rail,” Stone said. “They’re spending tax dollars on pay raises for public employees – and many of those employees work for a department where they have nothing to do.”
Stone wondered how the governor could boast of “spending billions of dollars on anti-poverty programs (while) one in four children go to bed hungry every night in California.”
Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, D-Corona, praised the governor for submitting “a budget that is responsible and balanced,” adding that she was particularly pleased that the revised spending blueprint included $18 million for the Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District.
Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Moreno Valley, lauded the governor for seeking funds in support of the Guided Pathways Program being implemented in community colleges statewide, enabling them to establish a “clear, comprehensive pathway to degree completion” for students who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
The governor acknowledged that revenue growth is $3.3 billion less than expected, but there’s still sufficient funding to “advance key priorities” and at the same time replenish the state’s rainy day fund, which should have an ending balance of $8.5 billion, about $5 billion less than the targeted amount, by the conclusion of 2017-2018.
Brown is seeking to increase K-12 education funding by $3 billion compared to the current fiscal year, translating to about $4,058 per student, according to the governor’s office.
The revised budget also calls for $2.8 billion in revenue derived from the Road Repair & Accountability Act of 2017 to be allocated for “fix-it-first investments” and “high priority transportation projects.” The act, implemented under Senate Bill 1, which Brown signed last month, hiked gasoline taxes by 12 cents, diesel taxes by 20 cents and increased diesel sales taxes by 5.75 percent, as well as pushed vehicle license fees up by an average $40 a year.
The $52 billion petrol tax package, which critics have blasted as punitive to motorists and certain to increase prices for goods shipped by truck, will take effect Nov. 1.
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, called the governor’s budget a “Democrat con job,” pointing to SB 1 as the prime example why.
“Gov. Brown and his fellow Democrats are already diverting funding to their own pet projects,” she said. “In this budget proposal, they are diverting 30 percent of funding from the gas tax to non-road-related projects like building parks and job training for felons. That’s money from the very gas tax the Democrats promised would go solely to fixing our decrepit roads and providing relief for traffic congestion.”
In his May Revise, the governor is asking that $50 million in funds originally intended for the University of California system be “sequestered” until the California State Auditor returns with recommendations on how to address findings that the University of California Office of the President squirreled away $175 million.
The money was kept in an undisclosed reserve account, even as tuition hikes were imposed on students and University of California President Janet Napolitano sought state funds to pay “employees with generous salaries and atypical benefits,” while failing “to satisfactorily justify … spending on systemwide initiatives,” according to a report published last month.
State Controller Betty Yee released a financial statement indicating that the state appeared to be “inching toward an economic downturn,” as revenue growth slows. Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate said that the finding should serve as a warning to the governor to trim budgetary commitments and begin paring down the state’s debt load.