By Toni G. Atkins
I’ll never forget what it was like to join the state Legislature in 2010 and immediately be forced to confront a $26 billion budget deficit. The conversation wasn’t about how we could move California forward — it was about which of the important programs that millions of residents rely on would be saved, and which ones would be eliminated or cut to the bone.
Thanks to a strong economy powered by our small businesses, responsible governance, and wise decisions by the voters, things are very different today.
Don’t get me wrong: We still face daunting challenges — housing affordability, the linked issues of wildfires and energy reliability, and the too-high cost of health care, to name three — and we are addressing them. But our state’s finances are in the best shape in a generation.
Not only have we been able to increase our budget reserves to $19.4 billion to cushion the blow of the next economic downturn and reinvest and build upon many of the programs that had been decimated during the Great Recession — we’re also able to inject significant resources directly into local communities throughout California.
For example, nearly $60 million will be sent to the San Diego region for projects that will protect public safety, support vulnerable children and improve quality of life:
$6.13 million to stabilize the bluffs on the coast of Del Mar, protecting one of the most active rail corridors in the country, as well as the beach below.
$8.66 million to renovate the iconic Botanical Building and complete construction of the international cottages in Balboa Park, enhancing our crown jewel and a major economic driver.
$9 million to renovate Building 178 in the former Naval Training Center (Liberty Station), so that it can be transformed into a performing arts center.
$21 million to create a rail crossing for cars and pedestrians alike at Park Boulevard near Petco Park, improving public safety and connectivity.
$1.67 million to support youth experiencing homelessness in San Diego County with housing and other services, part of $6.67 million that will be shared with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Clara counties.
$1 million split evenly among the cities of Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside and Vista for programs aimed at preventing homelessness in North County.
$5 million to complete studies that are necessary for Caltrans to move forward with a permanent suicide deterrent on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.
$5 million to create an aquatics center at the Jackie Robinson YMCA.
$1.5 million so that the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla can continue the research that informs policy decisions as we prepare for the impacts to climate change and sea-level rise.
In addition to these investments in our local residents and our communities, highlights of the state budget include record funding for education, a dramatic expansion of our state earned income tax credit for working families and individuals, assistance to help middle-class families pay for health care, additional funding for communities struggling with homelessness, and funding to clean up contaminated drinking water.
Though the good times and the difficult times, whether the days are sunny or covered with clouds — I continue to be proud to represent San Diego and will always work hard to help make our region, and all of California, better and better for everyone.
— Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.