Budget Subcommittee Spotlight: April 4, 2019

Friday, April 5, 2019

Please refer media questions to Jacqui Nguyen at (916) 651-4016.
Below is a summary of some subcommittee activity from the past week:

Subcommittee #1 (Education)

Roth (D-Riverside) Chair, Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga), & Leyva (D-Chino)

Keeping the California State University Affordable for Students.  The subcommittee listened to testimony regarding the California State University (CSU), which is projected to enroll more than 400,000 students at its 23 campuses in the upcoming year.  Senate Republicans applaud the progress CSU has made over the past decade in improving graduation rates, though more challenges remain.  Senator Mike Morrell (R—Rancho Cucamonga) noted a concern raised by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) that CSU has not done as much as other state agencies to require employees to address the high costs of unfunded pension and retiree health benefits.  The LAO also suggested CSU conduct an analysis of professor compensation to determine whether pay levels are appropriate.  Senate Republicans believe CSU should place a priority on controlling costs in order to help keep college affordable for California students.

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

Wieckowski (D-Fremont) Chair, Jones (R-Santee), McGuire (D-Santa Rosa), Monning (D-Santa Cruz), & Stern (D-Canoga Park)

Improving State Parks for All Californians.  The subcommittee reviewed several of the Governor’s proposals to improve state and local parks and recreation areas.  These include $35 million to improve Off-Highway Vehicle areas and $3.5 million to modernize emergency vehicle fleets at state parks, including a search-and- rescue plane serving Anza-Borrego State Park and Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.  Senator Brian Jones (R—Santee) voted along with other senators to approve these proposals, which now will move forward in the budget process.  The subcommittee also discussed a proposal to improve parks using bond funds approved in 2018 by California voters.  Senator Jones voiced a concern that the state was not doing enough with these funds to ensure that disadvantaged youth could travel to enjoy parks and wilderness areas.  State department executives promised to continue working with the senators to address these concerns. 

Subcommittee #3 (Health and Human Services)

Pan (D-Sacramento) Chair, Stone (R-Riverside County), & Hurtado (D-Sanger)

Funding Increase for Non-Profit Foster Care Organizations. The subcommittee met to discuss, but did not vote on, a proposal to increase funding for non-profit foster care agencies. These agencies play a critical role in California’s child welfare system and are often tasked with finding homes for the most vulnerable and high-needs youth. Senator Jeff Stone (R--Riverside County) commended the social workers at these agencies for the direct benefit they provide to foster families and youth. Foster family agencies have not received any funding adjustments to offset the statewide minimum wage increase, despite being mandated by law to pay their social workers at least twice the minimum wage. The stability of this workforce is crucial to foster youth and families, since constant social worker turnover results in further trauma for foster youth and uncertainty for foster families. Senator Stone advocated for this proposal to be brought to a vote after May Revision.

Subcommittee #4 (State Administration and General Government)

Durazo (D-Los Angeles) Chair, Nielsen (R-Tehama), & Umberg (D-Santa Ana)

Resources to Reduce Licensure and Enforcement Timelines for Nurses.  State bureaucracy is impeding timely employment for California nursing graduates, and may jeopardize patient safety.  For example, people seeking nursing licenses wait up to five months for the Board of Registered Nursing (Board) to process applications. Investigations of complaints and disciplinary actions against unsafe practitioners take nearly two years. Frustration compounds among applicants and patients when more than 87 percent of phone calls to the Board go unanswered.  Despite increasing the Board’s budget by $2.4 million and 26 staff positions over the past two years, the Board’s performance remains unacceptable.  The subcommittee heard the Governor’s proposal attempting to address these deficiencies by adding 67 positions at a cost of $7.1 million, funded by licensing fees. While it is clear that major improvement is necessary, it is unclear whether simply adding money will work if the Board is not held accountable for results.  Senate Republicans continue to advocate for patient safety and efficient government operations.

Governor Proposing Larger Bureaucracy, Less Transparency. The budget subcommittee discussed, but did not vote on, the Governor’s proposal to add another layer of bureaucracy by creating the Office of Digital Innovation within the Government Operations Agency. The Governor believes the Office is necessary to “enhance the usability and reliability of our state’s most important services,” but it is unclear why executives and managers cannot currently provide a robust analysis of business processes, clearly an activity they should be performing as part of their existing responsibilities. Furthermore, the proposal grants the Office authority to operate without future oversight or approval from the Legislature. Senate Republicans are concerned that the proposed lack of sufficient transparency and accountability measures would permit more waste of taxpayer dollars and inefficiency in state operations.

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

Skinner (D-Berkeley) Chair, Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), & Beall (D-San Jose)

Plan to Disarm Backlog of Felons and Mentally Ill Unlikely to Succeed.  The subcommittee discussed, but did not vote on, a request from Attorney General Xavier Becerra for $5.6 million and 26 positions to expand efforts to disarm people who are prohibited from owning guns due to criminal activity or mental illness.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) has known about a backlog of more than 20,000 of these individuals since 2013, but has been unable to eliminate the backlog despite having received funding to do so within one year.  The main reason DOJ has cited over the years for this ongoing failure has been staffing vacancies due to competition from local law enforcement agencies.  Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) asked the Attorney General how he plans to address the issue going forward, but it was clear from the response that there is no plan yet.  Until this challenge is addressed, the Attorney General’s ineffectiveness at removing guns from prohibited persons is likely to continue, thus raising the risks that Californians will be the victims of crimes.