Budget Subcommittees Spotlight: March 9, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Below is a summary of some subcommittee activity from the past week:

Subcommittee #1 (Education)

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

Pension Costs Squeeze Schools; Local Reserve Caps Assailed; Career Technical Education Losing Ground: The subcommittee heard a report on schools’ fiscal health, indicating that many districts are feeling squeezed by growing pension costs. Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) encouraged districts to cover these known costs before committing to new ones.  He went on to urge enactment of his SB 590, which would repeal an ill-advised 2014 law that could limit schools’ ability to maintain healthy rainy-day reserves. Finally, the Senator again voiced his ongoing support for career technical education programs. The pending loss of targeted funding for these programs will weaken schools’ ability to prepare students for the full range of jobs available. No votes were taken on the issue.

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

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

Higher Energy Costs Driven by State Policies: The subcommittee discussed a proposal to use $890,000 in utility ratepayer money to hire eight new staff for the Office of the Ratepayer Advocates (ORA) related to new climate change laws which require California to use greater amounts of expensive renewable energy, such as solar or wind power. This is inconsistent with the statutory mission of ORA, which is to “obtain the lowest possible rate for service consistent with reliable and safe service levels.”  

Despite increased costs to consumers, ORA supported the mandate for California to increase the use of renewable energy by 22 percent, which is expected to increase electricity rates by up to 23 percent. Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) pointed out the hypocrisy of the entity legally required to support lower energy rates instead advocating for policies that drive up rates. He also questioned whether it is appropriate for ORA to advocate for environmental policy, which is outside of its mission.  With Californians now paying 42 percent more per unit for home electricity, ORA should be doing everything it can to help lower costs to consumers, not advocate for legislation that increases costs.

The subcommittee did not vote on this issue, but will likely hold a vote at a future hearing.

Subcommittee #3 (Health and Human Services)

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

New Push in Tobacco Law Enforcement: The subcommittee discussed the use of $224 million in new Proposition 56 tobacco tax money for an enhancement of the Department of Public Health’s tobacco enforcement efforts. The department, in partnership with local law enforcement entities, will conduct more undercover youth buy operations at retailer locations. The department will also buy more anti-tobacco advertisements as part of an increase in public outreach and education.

Senator Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) asked whether the department has been working with retailers, including electronic cigarette retailers, about both the change in the legal age to purchase tobacco and the tax increase of $2 per pack. The department acknowledged that their new enforcement and advertising efforts would include a particular focus on electronic cigarette products. The subcommittee held the item open for action at a later date.   

Subcommittee #4 (State Administration and General Government)

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

Long Processing Times for Nurses:  The subcommittee discussed a proposal to increase funding to the Board of Registered Nursing by $1.3 million and add 16 new positions. The Board has struggled in recent years to issue licenses to prospective nurses in a timely manner, resulting in lost job opportunities. To make matters worse, 87 percent of calls to the Board are not answered. These calls are not only from applicants trying to get licensed, but also from consumers attempting to file complaints, leaving patients at risk when complaints are never received. In order to reduce government backlogs, Senator Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley) voted to approve the additional resources with a subcommittee vote of 3-0.

Support for our Veterans.  The subcommittee discussed a proposal to cut $1.7 million from the California Department of Veterans Affairs. This request will reduce the number of individuals working with local County Veteran Service Officers (CVSOs) to process California veterans’ compensation claims. Senate Republicans have long advocated for improved services to veterans. Because of state efforts since 2013, the backlog of California veterans’ compensation claims declined by 90 percent, from 70,000 to 7,000 claims for those waiting more than 125 days for completion, and led to the approval of federal payments exceeding $166 million to veterans annually. Since the Administration provided no evidence to show that the Governor’s proposed reduction will not impact veterans, the subcommittee decided to take no action on this request at this time, but could vote on the proposal at a later budget hearing.

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

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

Video Technology Improves Outcomes for Inmates and Staff Alike: The subcommittee discussed (but did not vote on) the Governor’s proposal to provide $11.7 million General Fund for a comprehensive video surveillance pilot program at High Desert State Prison and the Central California Women's Facility. Of the $10.5 million of these funds would be provided on a one-time basis to purchase and install video cameras and state-of-the-art monitoring software, the remaining $1.2 million would pay for ongoing operation of the systems. The expectation is that the presence of video recording equipment will deter misconduct by both inmates and staff, reduce false claims filed by inmates against staff, and discourage staff from filing unfounded reports of inmate behavioral violations. In addition, having better video footage available will help investigators resolve legitimate claims more quickly. Senate Republicans believe transparency is key to good government and applaud the Administration’s effort to increase transparency within the prison system through the cost-effective use of technology.

You can view the agendas for next week’s budget subcommittees HERE.