Budget Subcommittee Spotlight: March 14, 2019

Friday, March 15, 2019

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)

California Schools Still Underperforming. Spending per student for grades K-12 in California is set to reach an all-time high next year, according to testimony presented Thursday.  Senator Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) asked the experts who testified in committee how California compares to other states in key areas. Unfortunately, California ranks near the bottom in reading and math scores, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). These abysmal scores persist despite the state’s ranking slightly above the national average for spending per student.  Furthermore, a 2018 LAO report indicated that California’s performance has not improved in the past ten years and the state has among the largest achievement gaps between low-income students and other students.  Senate Republicans believe continuing to increase per-student spending, without enacting meaningful reforms to allow students and parents to make important choices regarding their education, will do little to improve California’s underperforming education system. However, the majority party who has controlled the Legislature for decades appears unlikely to enact necessary reforms.

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)

A Welcome Alternative to “Fourth of July Tax” for Disposal of Illegal Fireworks. The Governor's budget proposes $3.6 million General Fund ongoing to the Office of the State Fire Marshal to deal with the disposal of illegal fireworks within the state.  Each year the state seizes on average over 220,000 pounds of illegal fireworks. Since there has been no stable funding source for enforcement and disposal, the confiscation of illegal and dangerous fireworks throughout the state has resulted in stockpiles. There have been multiple attempts by Democrats in the past to establish a new tax on consumers of legal fireworks to fund the disposal efforts.  These proposals have been opposed by Senate Republicans, along with nonprofit entities who sell legal fireworks and fireworks manufacturers.  Senate Republicans applaud the proposal for an ongoing General Fund commitment for this important public safety issue.  This item was held open for a vote at a future hearing.

Concern Over Timber Tax Proposal.  The Governor’s budget proposes 15 positions and $3.5 million, including $2 million from the “Timber Tax” in 2019-20 and ongoing to implement SB 901 (Dodd) of 2018, which placed new requirements on the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Using the Timber Tax is problematic since it was created by AB 1492 in 2012 to streamline timber harvest plan reviews, among other activities.  The timber industry raised concerns because the annual report on the status of the Timber Tax program is overdue, expenditures from the Timber Tax are greater than revenues, and timber harvest plans are not being streamlined as required despite doubled staffing levels.  Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee) also stated his concern regarding the use of the Timber Tax for new SB 901 positions when that money should be used to streamline timber harvest plan reviews as the law requires. This item was held open for a vote at a future hearing.  

Subcommittee #3 (Health and Human Services)

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

Californians Struggle to Finance Long-Term Care Options. The budget subcommittee met today to discuss aging issues, including the Governor’s plan to develop a Master Plan for Aging. Senator Jeff Stone (R-Riverside County) commented that the Master Plan should include innovative policy ideas to finance and help middle-income Californians access Long-Term Supportive Services.  Middle-class Californians often spend down to the poverty level to qualify for supportive services from the state, since out-of-pocket costs are prohibitively expensive. Newsom administration officials indicated that they would engage the Legislature and stakeholders in developing the Master Plan for Aging within the next few weeks.  Senate Republicans believe this is a critical policy issue and that any plan should consider long-term care options for all Californians.

Subcommittee #4 (State Administration and General Government)

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

Governor’s Proposal to Withhold Transportation Funds. The budget subcommittee discussed, but did not approve, the Governor’s proposal to link voter-approved gas tax funds to state-defined housing milestones. Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) expressed concern with the proposal, believing the action is a clear “breach of promise and faith” with the voters of California who upheld gas taxes to provide funding for the state’s decaying streets and roads. While the threat is intended to motivate local governments to work with developers to increase housing, such a punitive measure would be yet another bait-and-switch on taxpayers.

State Should End Special Exemption from Housing Production Requirements. The budget subcommittee discussed, but did not approve, the Governor’s proposal to provide funding to establish state-defined housing goals and require local governments to plan to meet these goals. However, it appears not all counties will have to meet these goals. In 2017, the state provided a multi-year exemption (until 2028) that allows Marin County to build less than their fair share of needed housing. This special exemption exacerbates the state's already critical housing crisis by allowing less housing to be built in one of the state's most expensive areas, a classic example of “NIMBYism” (NIMBY stands for "not in my back yard"). Senator Nielsen called for the “special exemption to be rescinded, and we should require the same for everyone.”

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

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

State Foregoes Major Savings from Electronic Court Reporting.  The 2018 Budget Act provided $10 million to increase court reporters for family law cases.  On Thursday, the subcommittee heard from court officials on the use of those funds.  Consistent with other recent data indicating a statewide shortage of court reporters, one executive described a lack of qualified applicants to fill 25 vacancies in his court. Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) asked why courts do not use electronic means to produce the record when they lack shorthand reporters. As recently as 2012, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended the use of electronic reporting to save the state more than $100 million per year.  Despite its pervasive use in at least 46 states and the federal courts, California law prohibits electronic reporting, except in limited situations.  Senate Republicans believe the state should look for efficiencies like this to save money for California taxpayers.

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