California lawmakers gave final approval last week to a $183.2 billion state budget, which increases spending for public schools, healthcare and roads throughout the state while also continuing Governor Jerry Brown’s efforts to bolster California’s rainy-day fund.
The 2017-2018 budget was ratified by both houses of the Legislature after completing negotiations with Brown, and while a majority of the budget was decided on during state Senate and Assembly floor sessions early last week, a number of other relevant bills won’t be considered until later. Brown is expected to sign the budget into law before July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
“This budget keeps California on a sound fiscal path and continues to support struggling families and make investments in our schools. We've come together on this balanced and progressive budget and I'm confident that we can do the same to extend our critical cap-and-trade program," said Brown.
One-third, or $74.5 billion, o the budget is allocated to K-12 schools and community colleges — $3.2 billion more than was provided in the current year. This funding adds up to more than $11,000 for each student in the state, and adds more than 2,900 spots for students in state preschool classes as well as boosts funding for both preschool and childcare programs.
Despite proposing to completely eliminate funding for the Future Farmers of America and other Career Technical Education programs for high schools in the budget’s May Revise, Brown reinstated the funding after the decision was met with outrage by agricultural stakeholders up and down the state. Rather than diverting funds meant for the FFA and CTE programs to the Community College Chancellor’s Office to supplement other workforce funds already in existence, ongoing funding for these programs is included in the state budget.
“After early versions of the budget placed funding for career tech and FFA on the chopping block, a chorus of blue jackets from throughout the state descended upon the Capitol to remind lawmakers of the importance of these vital programs,” said Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced). “FFA, and other career technical education courses like it, are some of the very few remaining opportunities for young adults to leave school workforce ready. It is time Sacramento stop trying to cut the very programs that most benefit the workforce of rural California and the San Joaquin Valley.”
Gray praised the passage of the state budget, applauding a number of local investments included in the spending plan vital to the success of families in the Central Valley, one of which is $5 million in dedicated funding to Merced and Stanislaus County to combat homelessness. The budget contains $2.5 million each for both counties to address problems associated with homelessness.
“This funding will expedite local planning and boost local resources to put a roof over the heads of this vulnerable population,” said Gray. “I look forward to working with local leaders to identify solutions and ways to use this funding as an opportunity to leverage public and private funding to make these dollars go even further. This is a historic investment in our community and will have lasting implications for years to come.”
Healthcare accounts for $105.6 billion of the state budget, with spending focused on Medi-Cal. One of the most notable healthcare aspects of the bill will boost reimbursements made to doctors and dentists who treat Medi-Cal patients thanks to funds generated by Proposition 56, or the Tobacco Tax.
Previously, the governor had proposed putting most of the new tobacco tax dollars ($1.3 billion) toward overall Medi-Cal expenses, but under a deal struck by Brown and Democrats, $465 million of the new revenue will be used to boost payments for many of the state’s doctors — $325 million to physicians and $140 million to dentists. $50 million will go towards increasing reimbursements to reproductive health providers, like Planned Parenthood, while another $27 million will be allocated for higher payments for certain care facilities for the developmentally disabled. About $700 million will go toward general Medi-Cal costs.
California’s earned income tax credit is also expanded in the new budget, raising eligibility for those who earn almost $22,000 a year and now including those who are self-employed. It’s estimated that an additional one million households will now qualify for the tax credit, and in Merced and Stanislaus County, there is expected to be a boost of nearly 25 percent in eligible filers.
“This is not a handout,” said Gray. “This is a tax credit that targets the most in need and rewards hardworking families by letting them keep more of the money they earned in the first place.”
Gray, along with Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) made sure that the Central Valley would benefit from transportation funding in the state budget when voting to pass Senate Bill 1, or the Gas Tax Bill, in early April. Taxes and fees from SB 1 will fund the budget’s $2.8 billion infrastructure plan, which includes a $500 million allocation to support the extension of the Altamont Corridor Express to Ceres and Merced, and a parkway project connecting the UC Merced campus to Highway 99.
“The needs of Central California have long been overlooked,” said Cannella. “Although this budget has many faults, the transportation component will bring much-needed infrastructure improvements and jobs to my district.”
Cannella was also encouraged that funding for CTE programs and FFA was restored, but called for increased improvement to the state’s water deficiencies.
It was the first time voting on a state budget for Assemblyman Heath Flora, who said there were aspects of the spending plan that he both agreed and disagreed with, such as his approval of the added funds for education and the boost to the rainy-day fund. He still expressed frustration with Brown’s decision to use Tobacco Tax dollars for general Medi-Cal costs, however.
“The state continues to raise taxes on Californians based on empty promises, and then shamelessly use those dollars for other purposes,” said Flora.