Budget Subcommittee Spotlight: March 30, 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Below is a summary of budget subcommittee activities from the past week:

Subcommittee #1 (Education)

Portantino (D-Los Angeles) Chair, Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), Jackson (D-Santa Barbara)

Looming Teacher Shortages Show Need for Reforms: California faces a looming shortage in math, science and special education teachers, and filling the needed slots could require reforms to California’s outdated and overly strict policies for teacher recruitment and pay.  Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) noted the potential for recruiting millennials into teaching, as many teaching jobs offer three months off work every year for travel and other activities, as well as the opportunity to make a difference in the world.  He suggested that offering higher pay for specific hard-to-fill positions could help eliminate the shortages.

School Bond Funds Begin to Flow: The governor’s budget proposes to release about $655 million of the $2 billion in school bonds authorized by Proposition 51 in November 2016.  Senator Moorlach commented that the labyrinth of regulatory bodies that have to review school building projects is confusing, misallocates critical personnel and may drive administrative costs unnecessarily high on scarce bond funds.  He also acknowledged that while school districts have expressed some frustration at the slow release of these bond funds, flooding the market with too much money all at once could drive up school construction costs.

Subcommittee #2 (Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy, and Transportation)

Wieckowski (D-Fremont) Chair, Nielsen (R-Tehama), McGuire (D-Santa Rosa), Mendoza (D-Cerritos)

Timber Tax on Consumers Can’t Keep Up with Governor’s Proposed Spending: The governor’s budget proposes $15 million in additional spending of timber tax revenues for numerous timber regulation and forest restoration program expansions, including reforestation nursery operations, on-line timber harvest permitting, extension of forest restoration grants, and other activities. While some of these proposals may have merit, the new spending combined with existing costs will result in a deficit of $15 million in the 2017-18 fiscal year.  Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) cautioned against this type of uncontrolled spending since either future program cuts or new pressure to increase the timber tax will result.  Senator Nielsen requested that the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection provide an updated accounting of all spending activities within the program.  The subcommittee approved the item on a 3-0 vote with Senator Nielsen not voting.

Fire Prevention Fees Improperly Used for State Bureaucracy: The governor also proposes to spend an additional $193,000 from homeowner fire prevention fees, rather than general state revenue, to pay for new staff positions at the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection.  Total overhead costs for CalFire’s fire prevention program accounts for approximately 20 percent of program costs. Senator Nielsen stated that using these fees for such activities results in a tax on homeowners, as defined in the state constitution, and that the fees should be going to help homeowners with fire prevention projects only. The subcommittee did not vote on the issue but will return to it at a later date.

Subcommittee #3 (Health and Human Services)

Pan (D-Sacramento) Chair, Stone (R-Temecula), Monning (D-Santa Cruz)

Opportunities to Improve Foster Care: The subcommittee discussed various proposals for California’s roughly 43,000 foster care children, such as the continuing implementation of reforms to move foster youth out of group homes and into permanent family settings. Children’s advocates and Republican Assembly Member Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) offered ideas to improve the lives of foster children. Assemblyman Acosta’s proposal would help foster children prepare to succeed in life through activities like college preparation courses and music classes. Republicans believe that the state can do more to help these truly deserving children, who face great obstacles through no fault of their own.

Accountability Still Lacking for Billions in Mental Health Money: California state and county governments receive nearly $2 billion in revenue each year from the Mental Health Services tax authorized by voters in 2004. In recent years, independent reports and audits have raised concerns about the lack of information and accountability in how these funds are spent.  While some progress has been made, voters still lack sufficient information to evaluate whether these funds are being spent effectively.  The subcommittee discussed possible ways to reallocate unspent money and to improve reporting.  Senate Republicans support more transparency and better evaluation to ensure tax money is addressing legitimate mental health issues, as voters intended.

Subcommittee #4 (State Administration and General Government)

Roth (D-Riverside) Chair, Wilk (R-Antelope Valley), & Glazer (D-Orinda)

Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan to Cost More than $100 million: The subcommittee discussed but did not vote on the administration’s request for $6.7 million to design and install charging stations for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) as part of the 2016 Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan (Plan).  The Plan’s goal is that 50 percent of the state’s fleet purchases be ZEVs by 2025, with total costs of $110 million over the next five years. However, the budget request only provides less than a third of the funding (about $34 million) and does not identify how to pay for the rest. Senator Scott Wilk (R–Antelope Valley) commented that he supports hydrogen fuel cell technology and believes spending limited General Fund dollars on electric charging stations is not an efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Given other demands on the General Fund, the governor should explore using other resources and also consider additional solutions, not just electric vehicles only.

Critical Election Mandates Continue to be Suspended: The subcommittee discussed six suspended election mandates that govern activities associated with state and local elections.  The governor proposes to continue to suspend these six election mandates along with 56 other mandates in 2017-18. A recent survey by the Department of Finance indicates that while the election mandates may be suspended, the majority of counties continue to comply with the activities. Even so, the state’s refusal to pay local governments for $76 million in mandate claims could lead to inconsistencies with state and local elections, creating confusion and potentially jeopardizing voting integrity. The governor’s budget does not provide funding for prior claims, nor does it include a plan of action for addressing these critical activities in the near future. Senate Republicans believe the state should honor its obligations for the mandates it has imposed on local governments.

Subcommittee #5 (Corrections, Public Safety, and the Judiciary)

Skinner (D-Berkeley) Chair, Anderson (R-San Diego), Beall (D-San Jose)

Apprenticeship Programs Expand: The subcommittee approved the governor’s proposal to expand apprenticeship programs into the fields of health care, logistics, information technology and transportation. When fully implemented it is estimated that over 6,000 new apprenticeship slots will be created. Senate Republicans believe this step is valuable, but more efforts in technical and vocational training are needed to help Californians prepare for the jobs of the future.

You can view the agendas this week’s budget subcommittee hearings here.