Last week, the Governor and his Supermajority allies in the Legislature agreed on final budget trailer bills for the new Fiscal Year. Spending will reach a record $307 billion. While I have concerns about many of the budget’s priorities, there is some good news.
Bright spots include increased funding for education. There will be a historic increase in the Local Control Funding Formula base grant for public schools. There will be more money for home-to-school transportation, for school facilities, special education and instructional materials. Higher Education gets a boost too, including expansion of the Cal Grant program. Cal Grant eligibility will expand, with gains for adult learners and student-parents. Grants to students attending independent, non-profit California colleges will increase, along with support for foster youth.
The housing shortage and homelessness crisis also receive attention. Assistance for low-and-moderate-income first-time buyers increases, giving more working families the opportunity to own their homes. Homeless Encampment Resolution Grants will provide local governments funding and greater discretion over spending state funds to help clean up the camps.
But there’s also a downside. We have the largest budget in history and a record $97.5 billion surplus, but the opportunity to address high priority concerns like wildfire prevention and increased water storage were largely missed. There is no real relief for taxpayers --- the rebates that were approved are inadequate, won’t arrive for months, and many people will be ineligible to receive them. While the excise tax on diesel fuel was suspended, the gas tax remains, and even increased by 3 cents per gallon July 1st. And we’re still going to be spending billions on the bullet train to nowhere, continuing that wasteful hemorrhage of taxpayer money.
In many ways this budget, with its huge, temporary surplus, is a missed opportunity. California’s hard-pressed taxpayers deserve better.