Legislative Democrats have settled on their top priorities for upcoming California budget negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown.
They plan to ask for significant new investments to address the state’s housing and homelessness crises, and to improve health care access and affordability. They’ll also push for more money for higher education and welfare grants.
Both Senate and Assembly Democrats disagree with Brown’s proposed three percent increases over last year for the University of California and California State University systems.
“We feel that he’s underfunding the Cal State’s and the UCs,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) said this week in an interview with Capital Public Radio.
Rendon says he recognizes Brown’s concerns that the universities’ bureaucracies are too bloated, but “ultimately, it’s the students who are hurt if the funds aren’t allocated.”
Each chamber’s spending plan includes short-term money to address the homeless crisis while voters consider whether to approve longer-term funding sources.
“We keep talking about how our economy is booming, near record-low unemployment — yet we have this incredible homeless problem,” Rendon says. “You start to think about what that crisis might look like if the budget wasn’t as robust as it is. And that gets scary.”
The Senate also proposes funding for affordable housing construction in addition to homeless aid.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the significant budget asks in each chamber’s spending plans, which are being finalized this week:
Senate and Assembly:
Higher education: The UC (an extra $105 million in ongoing state funding) and CSU ($171 million) systems have each requested more than the three percent funding increases proposed by the governor. Legislative Democrats in both chambers are backing the universities’ requested funding levels, although their proposals may differ slightly.
Housing and homelessness: Approximately $2 billion for affordable housing construction and another $2 billion in funding for programs and housing to address short- and long-term homelessness. These are one-time funds intended to be used immediately in hopes that voters will approve a $4 billion housing bond already set for the November ballot, as well as a ballot measure proposed by the governor for a $2 billion “No Place Like Home” bond to help people living with mental illness.
“No Child in Deep Poverty”: Increase CalWORKS (welfare) grants from 40 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent. This would cost $1.5 billion a year when fully implemented, but would be phased in with lower initial costs.
Health care: Several different proposals seek to take steps toward achieving universal health care under California’s existing system (not single-payer health care). They include:
expanding Medi-Cal eligibility to immigrants between 19 and 25 years old living in California illegally;
making individual insurance more affordable through premium assistance and tax credits for Covered California enrollees; and
addressing doctor shortages by increasing the number of primary care physicians in rural areas.
These and other related proposals would initially cost several hundred million dollars combined in the upcoming fiscal year and would increase to $1 billion in years after.
Homelessness: Still being finalized, but Rendon says his caucus will seek one-time state funds for cities. “We’re looking at getting money on the ground as quickly as possible and dealing with some of the most severe cases.”
Lawmakers in both houses — and both parties — appear to support Brown’s call to use the state’s $9 billion surplus to fill its “rainy day fund” reserve to the constitutional maximum. And each chamber is considering whether to create a new reserve.
But the Senate and Assembly proposals each rely on revenue projections from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which are higher than the governor’s estimates.
The Legislature’s constitutional budget deadline is June 15th.