Brace yourself, Californians: There's no state budget crisis this year. Repeat: No crisis.
Gov. Jerry Brown didn't actually say those exact words this morning as he unveiled his spending plan for the next fiscal year, but he did sound a rare note of budget optimism. “For this year, there is very good news,” Brown said. “Good news in the fiscal stability and resources available for the state of California.”
For the first time since the dot-com boom, the state is expecting a multibillion-dollar tax surplus. Brown wants to increase spending by $8 billion this year and hike education funding by about 10 percent.
“We’re putting $10 billion into the schools of California,” he said. “After years of drought and cutbacks and pink slips for the teachers, we’re finally being able to provide a substantial amount of new money for the schools of California.”
But Brown pivoted back to his more typical, and more cautious, fiscal message. He pointed to the state's more than $300 billion in unfunded liabilities, at one point even holding a chart detailing the obligations over his head, "Say Anything"-style.
“We got lots of long-term liabilities,” Brown warned. “A lot of programs are very attractive and may have very positive values, or may not — depending on when you get into them. But when you have this level of long-term liability it isn’t time to just embark on a whole raft of new initiatives.”
So instead of restoring education, health and welfare spending to pre-recession levels, Brown wants to pay off $11 billion of accumulated debt, and stash $1.6 billion into a rainy day fund.
The Assembly’s Republican leader, Connie Conway, praised Brown’s restraint.
“I want to give the governor credit, because I believe he is really trying to do that — to show restraint,” she said. Conway’s one complaint: She’d like to save a larger chunk of money for future years than Brown is proposing. “$100 billion (in the budget), we put aside $1 billion? That’s like 1 percent? People like me would like that to be higher, but I realize we have to do what we have to do,” she said.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg welcomed Brown’s plan, but prodded the governor to spend a bit more money restoring programs. Earlier this week, Steinberg announced plans to expand California’s transitional kindergarten programs. Brown’s budget didn’t include that proposal.
“Expanding transitional kindergarten can be accomplished with just a fraction of increased Prop. 98 funds, while saving billions of dollars in the long run by reducing the extra costs of special education, grade retention and juvenile crime,” Steinberg said Thursday.
KQED's Mina Kim talks with Sacramento Bureau Chief Scott Detrow about the details of Gov. Brown's new budget proposal: