By Toni G. Atkins | Notes from Toni
California’s economy continues to be strong, and that’s reflected in the 2018-19 state budget that Governor Jerry Brown proposed on Jan. 10. The governor’s finance team estimates that the budget will benefit from a surplus of $6.1 billion this year.
However, I know all too well how quickly a surplus can turn into a deficit, so we must proceed carefully.
The day before the governor proposed his budget, my colleagues in the Senate’s Democratic Caucus officially selected me to be the next Senate president pro tempore. I am scheduled to be sworn into office on March 21, meaning I’ll be in position to represent the Senate in budget negotiations later in the spring before the budget is finalized in June.
For now, the governor is proposing a $131.7 billion general fund budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. From his perspective, the top highlight is the ability to add $5 billion to the “rainy day fund” that voters created in 2014, bringing that fund to $13.5 billion and our total reserves to $15.8 billion.
Adding significantly to the rainy-day fund to help protect vital state programs in the event of another economic downturn is the right course.
And there’s a lot to like about the proposed budget in addition to the large amount of money we can save for later. Here are a few highlights:
Nearly $4 billion more would be sent to our K-12 public schools to invest in our children’s education, bringing the total to $78.3 billion. Last year’s increase was $3.1 billion.
The budget includes more than $277 million for special education, including $167 million to expand access to preschool for children with special needs and $100 million to recruit special-education teachers.
Community colleges would receive $570 million more, including $120 million for online education — for members of our workforce seeking to improve their prospects with additional education.
The budget extends for five years our California Competes Tax Credit program, which has awarded $622 million in credits to 865 companies to create 83,000 jobs, including nearly 150 San Diego County businesses. The program would be able to award $180 million in credits each year, and San Diego always does well.
We saw again this year how devastating wildfire can be. Our ability to protect people and homes would benefit from an additional $760 million.
Our court system would receive an increase of $150 million, which it badly needs, and $131 million would be spent improving conditions in our correctional facilities.
The budget includes $4.6 billion for transportation infrastructure from passage of SB 1. Combined with $2.8 billion in the current budget, that’s $7.4 billion for local roads, highways and transit by June 2019. Already, more than $243 million in repair work has been approved for San Diego County alone.
If voters pass a $4 billion parks-and-water bond in June and a $4 billion affordable-housing bond in November, we’ll have $1 billion for parks and water, and $280 million for affordable housing to allocate in the next fiscal year alone.
The governor’s proposal is the first step in a six-month budget process. In the months ahead, the Senate and Assembly will hold detailed hearings covering all aspects of state revenues and expenditures, the governor will present a revised budget based on changes in economic conditions and legislative priorities, and then a final budget will be passed, reflecting negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders.
Some of the final numbers will differ from the governor’s early proposal, but I am confident that this will be another in a string of annual budgets that will have positive impacts in San Diego and California.
— Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.