Governor Jerry Brown’s new California budget proposal marks an end to the crippling deficits that have plagued California for years. It’s also an attempt to make major policy changes – without big increases in spending. But the governor’s message of fiscal restraint could find a warmer reception from Republicans than from his fellow Democrats. Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler and Amy Quinton bring us this two-part report from Sacramento.
Every January, with the governor’s budget release, everyone has the same question: How big is the deficit? It’s been as high as $40 billion, and when Jerry Brown took office two years ago, it was $25 billion. Now, he says, it’s zero. But, he warns, he’ll be saying “no” a lot this year.
Brown: “If you know what a governor is, the governor on a machine, is that when the machine tries to exceed a certain speed, the governor then depresses the speed. So that is the metaphor for 2013.”
His spending plan does call for an extra $2.7 billion dollars for schools and small increases for the UC and CSU systems. And he sets aside money to help phase in the federal health care overhaul. But that’s about it for new spending.
Brown: “I want to advance the progressive agenda but consistent with the amount of money the people made available.”
Brown is also using his budget proposal to drive some major policy changes. He wants to overhaul the funding system for school districts. And he’s hoping to use the budget for leverage to reign in UC and CSU tuition increases and encourage them to add more online courses.
Brown: “I’m gonna do everything I can to keep the university affordable – both to the state and to the students.”
Sacramento State political analyst Steve Boilard says Brown is trying to keep faith with voters after they approved his tax measure last fall.
Boilard: “There’s a lot of distrust, not just of how much people are paying to the government, but what the government’s doing with that money. So the governor’s trying to say, look, I’m not gonna spend a lot more money, but I am going to spend the money that comes in well.”
But Brown will face plenty of challenges: from uncertainty surrounding the state’s volatile revenues to the years of pent-up pressure for new spending in the legislature. - Ben Adler
In presenting his budget, Governor Brown said fiscal discipline is a fundamental predicate of democratic governance. Legislative Democrats – who hold supermajorities in both chambers – agree. But there is already pressure to restore cuts, prompting Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to offer this caveat:
Steinberg: “I can only add that we cannot forget and won’t forget mental health, dental care and subsistence for the elderly and disabled and other related issues as the year progresses.” (0:15)
While Democrats expressed relief at a balanced budget, Republicans remain skeptical. Senate Budget Vice-Chair Bill Emmerson:
Emmerson: “We’ve heard that message before and by the time we get to May, it’s not so balanced. So the jury is out and we’ll have to take a look at that as we go through the process.”
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers applaud the additional $2.7 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges. But Republican Senate Leader Bob Huff says more revenue generated by Proposition 30 should be going to schools.
Huff: “I think that more money going to education is a good thing, I think that voters should be frustrated that only $2.7 billion of the $7 billion in new revenues is actually going to education whereas it was represented during the campaign that that would be going to education.”
Funding for both the University of California and California State University will increase by $125 million, less than what the schools wanted. Assembly Speaker John Pérez has backed middle class scholarships and offered a word of caution for both university systems.
Pérez: “The clear expectation and quite frankly the unambiguous commitment from the Governor and from me is that they will not increase fees.”
But as the budget moves through the legislature only one thing is certain: It’s likely to change. - Amy Quinton