May Revise: Post-partisan era fades as budget details emerge

Last year, we had the most successful California legislative session in recent memory. Why? The governor and legislators brought our differing visions for California’s future to the table, and we looked to how to meet each other part-way in working through our differences.

We used this attitude to craft the greenhouse-gas bill and the successful infrastructure-bond package. We also had the first on-time budget in years, a budget that cut the deficit from the prior year and paid off mandate and transportation debt.

It also restored the education funding level, held back proposed university student-fee increases and rolled back community-college fees, used part of excess gas-tax revenues for public transit, made a cost-of-living adjustment to Californians on social security, and provided $250 million for deferred state park maintenance.

The governor’s May Revise budget had the chance to continue that spirit, but is more a partisan opening gambit. The governor’s proposal makes progress on the remaining deficit, and would make not just a $2.5 billion scheduled debt bond payment, but add another $600 million not required this year.

But it also depends on higher UC and CSU student fees, diverting $1.3 billion earmarked for public transit, taking back two-thirds of the deferred parks maintenance money, and keeping the state cost of living adjustment (COLA) from the aged, blind and disabled.

Missing is the notion that we will meet part-way to get to a solution. Each of these May Revise proposals is a legislative give to the governor. Each program he heralded last year as his own fared just fine in his proposal this year.

So the question we will answer in the next six weeks is whether last year’s budget was a one-time post-partisan event, or whether we will continue that spirit this year. Solutions will be found if the governor can meet us part-way, as he did last year. Here are three of the biggest issues:

First, to make the greenhouse-gas bill work, we need a comprehensive program to meet our goal. A key piece is public transit. Legislators once enacted a law to support transit in times of high gas prices. The idea was that when gas prices go way up and people rely increasingly on public transit, the windfall in extra gas-tax monies would go to public transit so we could meet that need. That scenario has happened, and the state has received over $800 million this year–earmarked by law for public transit. The governor is proposing to divert this entire amount, plus another $500 million in other public transit funds, to other uses–a total hit to public transit of over $1.3 billion. This is not very green and not very smart–we believe we can do better.

Second, the CalWorks program is the centerpiece of our efforts to get people off public assistance and back to work. In the past 10 years, California’s public-assistance roles have been cut in half by helping with child care and education as people move to work. We know the second half will be harder to continue the same rate of progress. The governor has proposed punitive methods to cut off from assistance as many as 190,000 of our neediest children rather than using the supportive ways that are working – and children are caught in the middle, losing key help for housing and food. We don’t agree with his direction.

Third, seniors and people with disabilities depend on social security to eek out a basic standard of living. Individuals make just $856 a month. As the costs of energy, transportation and food go up for all of us–imagine what it means to someone who survives on such a small amount. The governor proposes not to provide an extra $25 a month as a cost of living increase to the neediest of Californians. We do not think that is the right thing to do.

We can have a budget that meets these concerns, supports the governor’s programs and continues to reduce debt and deficits. It won’t be perfect, and everyone will have a part they do not like. But we need to return to the post-partisan path. We need to work toward an on-time budget that is a compromise, and take that cooperation on to the next challenge of health-care reform.

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