By Toni G. Atkins | Notes from Toni
This past Wednesday, I watched as Governor Jerry Brown signed his 16th and last budget for the state of California. As the Senate leader, I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish for the people of our state.
The governor’s current tenure began the same year I joined the Legislature, and crafting that first budget was an awful experience that I hope no one ever has to endure again. We were forced to make drastic cuts in important programs in order to close a nearly $27-billion deficit.
As the economy rebounded from the Great Recession, we gradually restored many of those decimated programs and began saving money in reserve to make it easier to absorb the shock of the next downturn.
The budget that becomes effective on July 1 reflects the strongest fiscal outlook our state has seen in a generation. It brings our reserves to nearly $16 billion and at the same time invests heavily in programs that help lift up our residents who are still struggling despite the strong economy.
This budget invests the highest level of funding in our public schools and higher-education systems that California has ever seen. It responds to the new reality of increasingly frequent and intense wildfires with nearly $1 billion for prevention and recovery efforts. It bolsters proven poverty-reduction programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit. It includes $500 million in emergency aid for our local communities to respond to the widespread humanitarian calamity of homelessness.
No budget is absolutely perfect, but, simply put, this one is great. And while the high-dollar statewide allocations grab the headlines, significant state resources are coming home to San Diego County to strengthen our economy, resident services, infrastructure and environmental protection.
For example: $898 million to repair our transportation systems; nearly $33 million of emergency homelessness aid; $30 million for San Diego’s groundbreaking Pure Water program; $50,000 to the San Diego River Conservancy; a portion of $15 million to combat a couple of insects that are harming our avocado and citrus groves; a portion of $10.1 million to our coastal communities to address sea-level rise and other climate-change impacts; and a portion of $20 million for urban greening and urban forestry.
There’s also $1.5 million for the San Diego Maritime Museum to redevelop and enhance the site where the Star of India and its other ships are displayed, $2 million for a project in Imperial Beach that includes a new swimming pool for high school athletes and the South Bay community, and $250,000 for the San Diego Unified School District to continue an important program that supports homeless students.
I’m also thrilled that the budget includes funding for one of my bills, SB 945, which removes an arbitrary cap on treatment in a state program for patients suffering from breast cancer or cervical cancer. Now, everyone in the program who continues to need care will receive it.
It’s a budget like this that makes me proud to be a public servant. Instead of agonizing over which programs to cut in order to balance our finances, we’re extending educational opportunities, expanding access to health care, providing housing, repairing our infrastructure, strengthening the social safety net and protecting our natural environment.
These are the building blocks for a higher quality of life for all San Diegans and all Californians.
—Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.