When Jerry Brown released his $164.7 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2015–16 late last week, the fiscally conservative Democrat called for continued "discipline and prudence" in state funding. The governor is proposing to use excess tax revenues to pay down debt and increase the size of California's rainy day fund reserve rather than restore the state's social safety net, which was shredded during the Great Recession. Not surprisingly, California Republicans were quite pleased with Brown's plan. Senate GOP leader Bob Huff told the Bay Area News Group that the governor was "channeling his inner Republican." In fact, Brown's newest budget proposal proves yet again that he's probably the best governor that Republicans could ever hope for in California.
The budget also shows that Brown is not really concerned about fighting income inequality in a state in which the poverty rate remains the highest in the nation when adjusted for the cost of living.
And for many liberals and Democratic lawmakers, Brown's latest budget proposal represents just more of the same. Last week, Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the 900,000-member Courage Campaign, said that Brown's financial agenda since returning to the governor's office in 2011 has favored the wealthy. Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California told the Sacramento Bee that Brown's budget "largely continues the cuts that were made in the recession to health and human services."
"The governor has drawn the same line as he has in years past, saying 'We don't have the money to take care of poor people in this state," Pete Woiwode, interim executive director of the California Partnership, told the Bay Area News Group on the day that Brown released his budget proposal. '"We're doing enough' is what he said today, and that's frankly appalling."
And Democratic state Senate Budget Committee Chair Mark Leno issued a statement, acknowledging that "devastating budget cuts from years past have left many of the neediest Californians — working families, students, children, the disabled, and elderly — without critical assistance."
Instead of restoring funding for social services that was cut during the downturn, Brown is proposing to spend $1.2 billion on repaying past debt and wants to deposit $1.2 billion into the rainy day fund. As such, Brown appears to be more concerned about the possibility of the next downturn than in recovering from the last one.
The governor also is refusing to allocate more funding to the University of California and Cal State University systems — beyond the $120 million he previously promised. UC President Janet Napolitano said that UC needs an additional $100 million to avoid student tuition hikes. But Brown opposes the $100 million proposal and vowed to revoke the $120 million unless the UC Board of Regents rescinds the tuition hike vote it made late last year. CSU Chancellor Timothy White, meanwhile, said Brown's proposal is about $97 million less than the CSU system needs to be sustainable.
It's worth noting that Brown's budget also calls for a larger funding increase for the state's prison system — $160 million — than for either UC or CSU.
Brown's plan also shortchanges the state park system, which was devastated by cuts during the Great Recession. Brown is calling for an increase of a paltry $2.8 million in funding for the system compared to last year, and Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, said in a statement that the allocation will not be enough to restore visitor services, hours of availability, and park amenities that had been slashed in recent years.
Brown's plan does call for more spending on K-12 education — but not much more than what is already required by law. And under his proposal, California would remain among the lowest in the nation in per-pupil spending. Last year, California ranked dead last — 50th — in per-pupil spending, and this year's it's ranked 46th. It's no wonder that California's K-12 schools also continue to lag behind the rest of the nation in academic achievement.
Brown, in essence, is arguing that there's simply not enough money to go around. Nonetheless, the governor insists that he has no intention of asking voters to re-authorize the tax measure Proposition 30 when it expires in 2016. "I said that's a temporary tax, and that's my position," he said during a press conference last Friday. Without Prop 30, the state will have even less money for basic services.
Lower taxes and increased spending for prisons, but almost no additional funds for social service programs, parks, and education: Republican, indeed.
Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty of Sacramento introduced legislation last week that would establish an independent oversight review of all fatal shootings by police in California. The review panel likely would be housed in the state Department of Justice. Currently, local district attorneys decide whether to seek charges against police officers who kill, but McCarty noted that DAs often have close ties to the police agencies they investigate. McCarty's bill comes in the wake of high-profile killings by police in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York in which the officers involved were exonerated. ...
And opponents of the plans by the Oakland Zoo to expand further into Knowland Park failed to gather enough signatures to place the expansion plan on the ballot. Environmental groups have opposed the expansion because it would result in the destruction of prime habitat for endangered species. The zoo plans to build an exhibit that will display species that no longer live in Oakland because of habitat destruction. The city council approved the final aspects of the zoo's expansion plan in November.