Subcommittee #1 (Education)
Portantino (D-Los Angeles) Chair, Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), & Jackson (D-Santa Barbara)
Senate Republicans Urge Focus on Students: Despite a recent surge in education funding, many schools lack librarians, counselors, nurses, and other student supports. Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) urged a closer look at California schools’ spending choices, including salaries, benefits, and pension costs, which could eventually choke out these services, prompting families to seek transfers to better-managed schools. In recognition of this problem, Senator Moorlach recently proposed Senate Bill 1368, the Statewide Open Enrollment Act, to permit all K-12 students to attend the schools of their choice regardless of residency or school district boundaries. However, Senate Democrats blocked the bill in the Education Policy Committee, giving priority to teacher union demands rather than parent choices and student interests.
Subcommittee #2 (Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy, and Transportation)
Wieckowski (D-Fremont) Chair, Nielsen (R-Tehama), McGuire (D-Santa Rosa), Stern (D-Canoga Park)
Gas Taxes Paying for Park Employees, NOT Roads: The governor’s budget proposes $61 million annually from higher gas taxes beginning in 2018-19 to hire 364 new park employees, purchase 224 new vehicles, and pay other park costs. Instead of using these gas tax revenues to build and maintain roads, as advertised by advocates who supported the new taxes, the Governor and Senate Democrats will use the gas taxes to build a bigger bureaucracy.Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) stated that the use of these funds for anything other than road projects is inappropriate and unfair to all California motorists who are paying these increased fuel costs. This proposal will not benefit California families as they drive on crumbling roads to get to work and take their children to school. Senate Democrats approved the item on a party-line 3-1 vote, with Senator Nielsen voting No.
New Helicopters Will Increase Firefighting Ability: The governor is proposing to purchase 12 new high-tech helicopters to replace the significantly older helicopters currently in CalFire’s fleet. Senate Republicans previously raised questions about the costs of the new helicopters, each of which will cost nearly $25 million to purchase, roughly double the price that the department previously believed. Senator Nielsen asked the department whether less expensive helicopters could provide the needed firefighting requirements, and the department responded satisfactorily that, despite the high price tag, these helicopters provided the best overall approach to increasing and modernizing the state’s critical firefighting abilities. The subcommittee approved the budget request on a 4-0 vote.
Subcommittee #3 (Health and Human Services)
Pan (D-Sacramento) Chair, Stone (R-Riverside County), & Monning (D-Santa Cruz)
Republicans Seek Critical Medi-Cal Resources for Medically Fragile Children: Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado) made a special appearance before the subcommittee, leading a coalition of children’s advocates and families with medically fragile children in seeking higher Medi-Cal payment rates for nursing care at pediatric day health centers (PDHCs). The nursing services at PDHCs are an alternative to in-home nursing care, allowing these children to learn and play in a safe social environment, but the availability of this important care is threatened by continued underpayment from the state. The governor’s budget proposes to increase Medi-Cal rates for in-home care by 50 percent, but excludes a similar increase for PDHCs. Senator Jeff Stone (R-Riverside County) questioned why the Governor’s administration would purposefully create such an inequity in care, emphasizing that the Medi-Cal rates for the PDHCs have not increased in 18 years, even as state budget revenues have grown substantially. Senator Gaines added that providing equal resources to PDHCs is crucial to ensure that families with medically-fragile children continue to have options in deciding what type of care would benefit their child. The issue was held 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)
Concerns Remain About Extending Tax Credit Program: The governor proposes to extend the “California Competes” Tax Credit program, which would provide tax credits of $180 million per year through 2022-23. Measuring the success of the targeted tax credit program, which is intended to attract, expand, and retain businesses, is difficult. Many tax credits may only produce what are called “windfall” benefits, meaning the tax benefits go to businesses that would have engaged in the desired behavior even without the incentive program. While the governor’s proposal attempts to address this problem, the changes would not prevent windfall benefits entirely. Senate Republicans applaud the governor’s attempt to improve a vital tax credit program but are concerned that the new structure may not go far enough to eliminate concerns of fairness. Additionally, though tax credits can help, Senate Democrats continue to fail more broadly to address the high costs of doing business in California that result from poor state policies and drive many businesses to move or expand to other states.
Subcommittee #5 (Corrections, Public Safety, and the Judiciary)
Skinner (D-Berkeley) Chair, Anderson (R-Alpine), & Beall (D-San Jose)
Governor’s Prison-to-Employment Initiative Not Tracking Actual Results: The governor proposes $35 million for a program aimed at removing employment barriers and securing stable jobs for ex-inmates. The stated goal of the proposal is to reduce recidivism — the return to jail by former inmates. While the intent is worthy, Senate Republicans note that curiously absent from the proposal is any plan to track the actual results for participants. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office expressed similar concerns in the hearing. Far too often, Sacramento Democrats in Sacramento neglect to collect data regarding changes in criminal policy, such as the 2011 “public safety realignment” that shifted some responsibilities from the state to county jails and probation departments. Senate Republicans will continue to advocate for including such data collection for this initiative and in other cases. The proposal is expected to be voted on at a later date.
You can view the agendas for the following week’s Budget Subcommittee hearings here.