Today, Governor Brown will release his budget proposal for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The release of the Governor’s budget officially kicks off the budget debate at the State Capitol. As the new vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I look forward to representing Assembly Republicans throughout the budget process as we work toward a balanced budget that protects taxpayers.
Our budget priorities this year are your priorities — protecting classroom dollars, keeping higher education affordable, and safeguarding public safety funding.
There will be areas where we agree with the Governor on his budget proposal, and areas where we disagree.
We agree with his focus on tackling the state’s long-term liabilities. This is especially important as the State Controller’s office has estimated that state retiree healthcare obligations have grown to nearly $72 billion this year – a $7 billion increase over last year.
Our total state debt, including retiree health care costs and unfunded public employee debt, was estimated last year by the Legislative Analyst’s Office at $340 billion. In my view, this is a conservative figure.
Taxpayers should not be on the hook for the entire costs of unsustainable retiree healthcare costs. State workers must also contribute their fair share to paying down long-term liabilities.
This is the first year that lawmakers and the Governor will be able to use the new Rainy Day Fund. Republicans helped craft and strongly championed the Rainy Day Fund, which was approved by voters last fall. Our priority in budget discussions will be to ensure the new fund is utilized to its maximum extent and maintain a substantial reserve beyond the amount deposited currently.
Every dollar of debt that we pay or save in a reserve is money that we will have in the future to protect funding for education, public safety and other priorities when the next recession hits.
The Governor is expected to project that tax revenue is growing this year. This will surely mean more money for education in the budget. Republicans will work to ensure that these dollars go to the classroom, not bureaucracy.
This year’s budget also presents an opportunity to keep promises made to students. The education taxes approved by voters in Prop 30 were supposed to go to education, and to prevent tuition hikes at our public colleges and universities. But Sacramento used some of this money for state worker raises and more welfare spending. The UC wants to use the money for retiree pension costs. This is wrong. In this year’s budget, we will advocate for education taxes to be spent on education as promised.
While I am pleased to see revenue growing, I would caution Democratic colleagues not to use a one-time windfall as an excuse to go on a spending spree. Doing so could send us back to the days of painful deficits that hurt many Californians.
The Governor will also likely forecast a growing economy for the year ahead. As the economy recovers, job creation must continue to be a budget priority. It is disappointing to see the Governor continuing to spend cap-and-trade taxes paid by employers to fund the costly his high-speed rail project. This is on top of new job-killing mandates that he talked about in his State of the State address.
To keep our economy growing, the Legislature must make it easier to create jobs in California, while investing in job-creating projects to improve our schools, roads, and water infrastructure.
Today is only the beginning of the difficult work that remains to craft a balanced budget before the June 15 deadline. I stand ready to work with the Governor and my Democratic colleagues to give Californians the on-time, balanced budget they deserve.
Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chair Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, represents the 67th Assembly District in the California Legislature.