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State budget mixed bag for local legislators
assembly members Flora and Gray
Assembly members Heath Flora and Adam Gray weigh in on the state budget.

Local legislators have mixed feelings about the historic $300 billion state budget that Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law on July 1. The budget, which includes a $97 billion surplus, is the final result of weeks of negotiations between the Governor and legislative leaders on issues such as transit, infrastructure, inflation, rising gas prices, homelessness, education, healthcare and other areas.

“We didn’t get everything that we asked for, but that’s part of the process,” said Assemblyman Heath Flora (R), who represents District 12 that includes most of Turlock and east Stanislaus County. “It’s still a win and we are proud to have been able to work with our local stakeholders, the Legislative Budget Committees and the Governor’s Office to make it happen.”

Three budget requests submitted by Flora made it into the budget:

  • $100,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County for the modular unit at Martin Luther King Jr. Park to be moved to a new location adjacent to the Dryden Golf Course;
  • $2 million to the Lockeford Community Services District, Parks and Recreation for building the Lockeford Memorial Park restroom; and
  • $16 million to the City of Manteca for a Homeless Navigation Center.

“This project will help our entire region fight against the homelessness crisis. I want to thank my colleague Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman and her staff for working with our team to get this across the finish line,” Flora said about the homeless center in a Facebook post.

Assemblyman Adam Gray (D) — who represents District 21 that includes rural areas west and south of Turlock, along with the cities of Livingston, Newman, Patterson and parts of Ceres and Modesto — said that while the budget includes significant tax cuts, rebates and investments in the Valley, it falls short of suspending the gas tax and failing to invest in new water storage.

“The state budget fails to incorporate the 12-month gas tax holiday that I and the bipartisan California Problem Solvers Caucus introduced. President Biden recently called for a federal gas tax holiday and urged states to suspend their taxes as well. With a $100 billion surplus to work with, there is no excuse for California’s failure to act,” said Gray.

“The budget does suspend the 23 cents per gallon sales tax on diesel for a full year. This tax holiday will primarily benefit blue-collar workers and help combat the rising prices of consumer goods transported by trucks including California-grown fruits and vegetables. The budget also includes critical tax rebates to individuals and families of up to $1,050. These payments are long overdue and let Californians decide how to put $9.5 billion to work in our state.

“All of this is good stuff, but the budget simply should have suspended the gas tax. I will continue to push for the passage of AB 2457 to suspend the gas tax for a full year,” Gray continued.

The lack of investment in building more water storage for drought-ridden California was another point of contention for Gray.

“After another year of severe drought, California continues to ignore the obvious solution – build more water storage. Just this week, my request to audit the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board was approved after the revelation that the state’s water supply forecast was off by more than 700,000 acre-feet. When complete, the audit will identify the problems leading to the state’s mismanagement of our surface water reservoirs and help us utilize our current storage capacity as effectively as possible,” said Gray

“This audit is long overdue, but we need to pair better management practices with additional water storage capacity. California’s population has doubled while we have relied on the same water storage infrastructure built and paid for by our grandparents.

“It’s time to bring California water into the 21st century,” Gray continued.

Gray expressed his support in the state’s investment in education, at both the K-12 and local college level.

“When I was first elected to the state Legislature, California’s per-pupil funding was famously nearly the lowest in the nation. With the signing of the 2022 state budget, California’s per-pupil funding now ranks in the top 15 nationally, and we have doubled funding for K-12 students throughout Merced and Stanislaus counties. I am proud to support our students, teachers, and schools with real and meaningful investments,” said Gray.

The budget includes historic investments to expand college access including $100 million to accelerate the growth of UC Merced and investments at UC Merced and Merced College to support affordable student housing.

This comes just one year after the state committed more than $215 million to build a medical education building at UC Merced to support the medical school.

Highlights of the budget include:

  • $17 billion for a broad-based relief package, including a refund of up to $1,050 based on income level and size of household;
  • $39 million over five years toward climate change initiatives, including expanding zero-emission vehicles, encouraging lithium production in California and integrated climate, equity and economic opportunity;
  • $75 million to support grants to farming and related businesses negatively impacted by the drought;
  • $1.2 billion to continue building forest and wildfire resilience;
  • $128.6 billion for K-12 education;
  • $4.4 billion over multiple years to transform California’s behavioral health system for children and youth;
  • $304 million to re-instate Covered California premium subsidies for the middle class;
  • $100.7 million to develop and manufacture low-cost insulin products;
  • $200 million to expand access to reproductive healthcare services;
  • $47 billion for infrastructure;
  • $14.8 billion for regional transit and rail projects;
  • $2 billion over two years to accelerate the development of affordable housing;
  • $12 billion in multiple years for local governments to build housing and provide support and homelessness services; and
  • $1.1 billion to continue to implement the state’s SMARTER plan to fight against COVID-19;