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Budget Proposal ‘A Good Starting Point’

“This budget proposal, it’s a great start,” said Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), chair of the Assembly Committee on Budget after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) released his spending plan last week. “By no means is it the end of the conversation, but it’s a good starting point.”

The Assembly budget committee was the first to hold a fiscal review hearing on the governor’s proposed budget for 2015-16. The Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review meets Thursday to start its official discussion of how the state should spend its money this year.

The Assembly committee last week went over the Assembly’s paper summarizing the highlights of this year’s budget proposal.

Weber and several other Assembly members believe the budget should include more measures to help ease the high poverty rate in California. Two issues raised in committee last week were the lack of health coverage for the undocumented in the state and low Medi-Cal provider rates.

“We have such a high level of poverty in California, with thousands of unemployed and underemployed,” Weber said. “Last year’s budget showed we have the ability to address some of these things.”

According to Keely Bosler, the chief deputy director at the Department of Finance, there isn’t a ton of wiggle room in this spending plan.

“This budget is precariously balanced,” Bosler said. “There will be increasing expenditures. We will be taking on a share of costs of the Medi-Cal expansion, and that will be $1 billion by the end of the forecast period.”

When legislators contemplate allocating more money to health care programs and initiatives, they might want to consider how much more is currently being spent on the growing number of Medi-Cal recipients, Bosler said. That figure likely will remain at just over 12 million Californians this year, she said — roughly 30% of the state’s population.

“Implementation of health care reform, this was a major effort,” Bosler said, “with a total of $16.3 billion in federal and general fund dollars.”

Mac Taylor, head analyst at the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, said the state spending proposal’s focus on paying off debt, increasing school funding and financing a rainy day fund makes good financial sense but he raised concerns that legislators have much more than that on their budget shopping lists.

“If almost all of [the budget increase] goes to schools,” Taylor said, “people will want to know, ‘How come there’s no money available for other programs and issues?’ That’s great for schools … but once you do that, there’s not a lot of money left over for other commitments.”

“When we think about addressing poverty and financial inequality,” said Assembly member Nora Campos (D-San Jose), “I just wanted to lay out the bigger picture of how we’re really going to address poverty in communities that are poor in resources.”

“The intent is to get [some of] that money to low-income underserved communities, areas with high unemployment,” Bosler said. “That is one aspect of our proposal.”

“Well, this will be a lively conversation for the next three months,” Weber said at the end of the hearing, “and that’s a good thing.”

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