California’s $310.6 billion budget for the new Fiscal Year was approved in mid-June. Trailer bills that make specific funding allocations for state agencies and programs are receiving approval and in many cases are still under review. As often happens, politically expedient wants are often placed above essentials. For example, spending plans still include $4.2 billion for the high-speed rail boondoggle.
Even so, the budget contains positives that I was pleased to support. Chief among these are funding to improve usability and safety of existing dams. Even though the measure inexplicably prohibits expanding dam storage capacity, it does provide critical funding for dam safety and usability improvements, including repairing and retrofitting dams to prevent catastrophic failure. The budget also permits diversion of floodwaters for groundwater recharge by exempting diversion of flood flows from Department of Fish and Wildlife restrictions so aquifers depleted during the drought can be rapidly recharged. In addition, drought relief allocations aimed at improving health, safety and improving availability of food, water and shelter that had been scheduled to end January 1, 2024, will now be made permanent.
Help for small business and farms was also included in the budget. Grants for small agricultural enterprises will be expanded to include grants for farms affected by flooding that inundated many Northern California farms. COVID-related support for small businesses impacted by the forced shutdowns will continue for another year. These include the Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Relief Grant Program, The Venues Grant Program, and the Microbusinesses COVID-19 Relief Grant Program.
The budget also includes a $2.1 million General Fund allocation to basic aid school districts (which receive no general purpose state aid), that were impacted by the 2020 wildfires that swept much of the state.
Additional trailer bills will be considered over the coming weeks, with votes extending into August. As always, we must ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, which can be difficult in Sacramento.