RIVERSIDE – Gov. Jerry Brown signed a record $125 billion state budget Tuesday for fiscal year 2017-18 that Republican lawmakers from the Inland Empire generally criticized as pork-barrel spending with minimal accountability and Democrats praised as a sound financial blueprint that funds critical needs.
“California is taking decisive action by enacting a balanced budget,” Brown said after signing the appropriations plan. “This budget provides money to repair roads and bridges, pay down debt, invest in schools … and provide Medi-Cal healthcare for millions of Californians.”
When the spending plan was passed on a largely party-line vote just under two weeks ago, Riverside County legislators on both sides of the aisle found one item on which to unite—a provision to continue setting aside funds for the state’s Rainy Day Reserve. Beyond that, there was little commonality.
“As many California families continue to struggle to afford to buy a home and pay the highest taxes in the nation, this year’s record General Fund spending is a 45 percent increase over just six years ago,” said Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula. “Are California families 45 percent better off than they were in 2011? I don’t think so.”
Stone denounced the “hefty pay raises”—upwards of $600 million—that will be tendered to state workers under the new budget and blasted the shifting priorities for the $52 billion gas tax approved in April that are contained in the spending plan, including funding for lifeguard and park ranger training.
The senator argued that Democratic lawmakers and the governor promised that funding from Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair & Accountability Act of 2017, would be used exclusively for “infrastructure repairs.”
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, also complained that, instead of “fixing our crumbling roads,” one-third of SB 1 revenue will be dedicated to “non-road-related projects” under the 2017-18 budget.
She also found fault with taking “nearly half of the billion dollars in revenue from the new cigarette tax (enacted under Proposition 56)” and diverting it to the General Fund.
Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Menifee, took aim at the budget for allocating another $1.1 billion to the California High-Speed Rail Project, viewed by critics as a boondoggle that’s fast becoming financially untenable.
“For this and other reasons, I could not support (the budget),” he said.
Sen Richard Roth, D-Riverside, called the spending plan “fiscally prudent.”
He pointed to a $413 million appropriation for construction of a new California Air Resources Board emissions testing facility on property belonging to UC Riverside as a prospective jobs creator. Roth also praised the budget for setting aside $3 million for the Riverside County Office of Education and putting additional funds toward funding two judicial positions in the county.
Sabrina Cervantes, D-Corona, celebrated an $18 million appropriation for the Jurupa Area Recreation & Park District and $2 million for Norco College’s Veterans Resource Center.
“The state budget is both balanced and prudent,” Cervantes said. “It exemplifies fiscal restraint.”
Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Moreno Valley, pointed to the continuation of the Middle Class Scholarship Program for college students statewide as a win in the budget.
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, lauded the budget for earmarking funds for services in “underserved areas throughout the state.”
He said he was heartened by an $8 million allocation for broadband infrastructure build-outs in rural parts of his district and $3 million for expansion of the Cal State San Bernardino-Palm Desert campus.