Budget Subcommittee Spotlight: May 3, 2018

Friday, May 4, 2018

Subcommittee #1 (Education)

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

Republicans Urge Higher Pay for Special Education, Math, and Science Teachers.  Staff from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing noted that the state’s teacher shortage is easing, but math, science, and special education teachers are still in short supply.  Current practice rewards teachers with the most seniority rather than those whose skills are most in demand.  Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) urged reforms to these outdated teacher pay policies, noting that increasing compensation for hard-to-staff assignments will draw qualified teachers into the classrooms where they are needed most.  Unfortunately, the Democrat majority in Sacramento has typically opposed innovative changes to teacher pay policies that could lead to better outcomes for students, even as California’s test scores lag well behind the national average. For example, fourth grade math ranks 45th in the nation.

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

Wieckowski (D-Fremont) Chair, Nielsen (R-Tehama), McGuire (D-Santa Rosa), Stern (D-Canoga Park)

Billions Approved for Caltrans Without Meaningful Reforms.  While the state collects higher taxes from California drivers, little has been done to reform Caltrans, an agency with a history of fraud, waste, and abuse documented by independent audit reports.  The subcommittee approved $1.8 billion and 400 new staff positions for Caltrans to fix California’s state-maintained roadways. The vote was 3-1 with Senator Nielsen (R-Tehama) voting no due to the unnecessary tax increase and lack of accountability.  The $1.8 billion is a portion of the money collected from the new gas and car taxes (known as SB 1 taxes), which Sacramento Democrats claimed were needed despite billions in surplus money pouring in already from existing non-gas taxes.  As part of the SB 1 tax increase, the “Independent” Office of Audits and Investigations was established within Caltrans.  California roads need to be repaired, but allowing Caltrans to squander taxpayer dollars is not going to fix our roads.  The new taxes started raising prices at the pump on November 1, 2017, and will raise car registration costs by $25 to $175 per car in 2018.  Drivers can see an estimate of how much more they will pay personally in higher taxes here

Safety and Consumer Protection Energized.  Ten proposals to enhance safety and consumer protections related to water, electric, and natural gas utility operations received bipartisan support at the hearing.  The subcommittee approved nearly $7 million in new funding for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the Office of Ratepayer Advocates.  This funding will strengthen oversight and auditing of state-regulated energy and natural gas companies, increase safety inspections and disaster response related to natural gas pipelines, electricity facilities, and railroads, and provide additional review of proposed utility rates to ensure that rates are “just and reasonable.”  Senate Republicans will continue to monitor the CPUC’s activities to confirm these resources actually improve safety and consumer protections.

Subcommittee #3 (Health and Human Services)

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

Republicans Support Innovative Genetic Testing to Save Sick Babies.  Critically ill infants in the Medi-Cal program could receive highly customized medical care using cutting-edge genetic techniques, according to testimony presented to the subcommittee. A proposal by genetic researchers would create a genome sequencing pilot project within the Medi-Cal program, which would test about 100 critically ill newborns with undiagnosed diseases in hopes of uncovering their genetic abnormalities. With this information, a specifically tailored medical plan can be created and administered quickly to the newborns, preventing death or permanent disability. Senator Jeff Stone (R-Riverside County) praised the cutting-edge work of these researchers and urged the subcommittee to adopt the proposal to demonstrate the value of genome sequencing as a crucial life-saving healthcare diagnostic test. The item was held open for further action.

Subcommittee #4 (State Administration and General Government)

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

Major Problems Continue for State IT Project 13 Years in Development.  California was the birthplace of the computer revolution, but the state government continues to struggle with information technology (IT) systems.  The “FI$Cal” project, originally started 13 years ago, is intended to provide the state with a unified financial system to be used by nearly all state departments.  With the latest project update, however, the Governor proposes to significantly revise the scope of the still-unfinished project yet again, this time by arbitrarily establishing July 2019 as the project’s end point (unprecedented for an IT project), reducing the number of state departments using the system, and ending the project before the State Controller utilizes the system. Senate Republicans have been vocal critics of the major cost overruns and lack of accountability surrounding the state’s repeated major IT failures, and remain concerned about these proposed revisions.   Unfortunately, the Democrat majority in the Legislature has neglected to pursue reforms to the state IT workforce and policies that would create accountability for wasting taxpayer dollars on project failures.

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

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

Misplaced Lawsuits Unlikely to Achieve Desired Results for the Environment.  The subcommittee discussed several proposals that were not part of the Governor’s budget, including one that would provide $3.5 million to the Department of Justice to pay for lawsuits by the new Bureau of Environmental Justice.  The Attorney General created the Bureau earlier this year using existing funds and is not asking for more money. Coincidently, a proposed resolution (Senate Joint Resolution 22) calls for the Attorney General to sue the federal government for failing to clean up cross-border pollution in the Tijuana River Valley.  While Senate Republicans agree that addressing the issue of cross-border pollution is important, the best approach would be to involve the responsible parties, including the Mexican state of Baja California and the City of Tijuana, directly.  The budget request appears to be another example of a proposal to pick a fight with the federal government, rather than looking for ways to work together to provide the best value for the people of California.  No vote was taken on this funding request, leaving it open to the possibility of future budget action.

You can view the agendas for the following week’s Budget Subcommittee hearings here. Also, Subcommittee #5 will meet for an informational hearing on Monday, May 7, agenda here.