The strong revenue California collected in April is one more encouraging sign that after years of weathering the Great Recession we appear to have reached a point of budget stability.
To help build on that stability, Assembly Democrats have crafted a Blueprint for a Responsible Budget that will keep California on sound financial footing not just this budget year, but in the future as well.
Over the past several years, Legislative Democrats have made tough but necessary budget cuts. Voters approved the majority-vote budget, which removed the game playing and gridlock that had jeopardized California’s financial picture. And voters stood with Democrats in supporting temporary tax revenues to help fund our schools and avoid even deeper cuts.
Now, with the economic recovery finally taking hold, we can finally say: the era of new budget cuts and additional broad-based taxes is over.
What that really means is our hard work is just beginning. We must now pivot to strengthening our state, avoiding the mistakes of the past, and preventing the devastating impacts that economic downturns can have on our budget and the people of California.
The blueprint Assembly Democrats have crafted to achieve these goals and get California working again involves three key elements: continuing fiscal responsibility, strengthening the middle class, and delivering effective, efficient services for California.
Continuing Fiscal Responsibility
• We must provide a balanced budget, not just for this year, but for every fiscal year in the forecast period.
• We must accelerate the repayment of our budget debts. By accelerating repayment of budget debts we increase our budget stability and our ability to invest in our future.
• The time has come to craft a real and workable Rainy Day Fund that captures one-time spiking revenues to be set aside for economic downturns.
Strengthening the Middle Class
• Nothing is more critical to rebuilding the Middle Class than making sure our education system provides real opportunity for students in all California schools.
• UC, CSU and Community Colleges need additional funding to make needed improvements to return California’s higher education system to pre-eminence while also modernizing to meet the changing times.
• All students must be able to afford a college education without being strapped with debt that strangles them well into the future and hurts future economic growth. Funding the Middle Class Scholarship with General Fund revenues from Proposition 39 can slash student fees at UC and CSU by 40 percent.
• Small businesses are playing a significant role in the economic recovery for California’s middle class families, but more must be done to stimulate small business development and expansion.
• New ideas must be developed to spur lasting local economic development strategies. Without returning to past programs that at times led to unaccountable and wasteful spending, local governments need the tools to improve their local economies.
• Strengthening recent Welfare to Work changes will ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently, giving struggling families a real hand up to help rejoin the workforce and the Middle Class.
Delivering Effective, Efficient Services for Californians
• The Secretary of State must reach the new goal, established by the Assembly, of processing business filing forms within five days, instead of the historic levels of over 60 days. This ensures small businesses won’t be waiting for months before they can hire employees or open for business.
• The Department of Public Health often takes as long as eight weeks to process “exporting licenses” for perishable goods. These licenses must also be approved within five days, so California perishable exports can get to their destination on time and the state’s exporting businesses can prosper.
• Local Coastal Programs (LCPs) need to be updated. Currently, 115 out of 128 LCPs are either 20 or more years out of date, or have never been certified by the Coastal Commission, which means all projects in these areas must go all the way to the Commission for approval.
• Once the Coastal Commission approves updated LCPs, consistent development approval can be done more quickly at the local level without costly and time consuming additional review.
• Increasing funding for County Veterans Services Officers to outreach to veterans will increase enrollment in state and federal programs that will improve their lives and strengthen local communities.
• Embedding state staff in the three regional federal Veteran Benefit Administration offices will expedite the processing of veteran disability benefit claims. These state “Strike Force” teams will ensure benefits are approved faster and California veterans will receive the needed benefits – which they have earned – as soon as possible.
• Funding for courts must be preserved to ensure Californians have adequate access to necessary court services, but the funding must come with strong accountability and reporting requirements to provide better management and to ensure critical court services and access are preserved.
As California’s budget process moves into high gear next week with the Governor’s May budget revision and the Legislature’s work to pass a final budget by June 15, these are some of the issues Assembly Democrats will be focusing on to make sure our state takes the critical steps we need for our schools, small businesses, safety net, higher education, courts and other key areas that have been harmed during the Great Recession. — Ed’s Note: John A. Pérez is the speaker of the California State Assembly. A Los Angeles Democrat, he represents the 53rd Assembly District.