SACRAMENTO >> Gov. Jerry Brown will release his projections for state spending today, but the annual road to a state budget just may face a detour or two this year thanks to a new regime in Washington.
President-elect Donald Trump arrives in the White House on Jan. 20 to establish his spending priorities, many of which are expected to be at odds with California’s. Add to that a newly conservative Congress and that means the governor’s spending blueprint may include some changes by his required revision in May.
Why not wait? It’s not an option. The state constitution requires Brown to release his plan today.
Nonetheless, here are four big questions that Brown could answer today (and, maybe, answer all over again in May).
• Can Brown clear any anxiety over health care spending?
Perhaps just a wee bit. Brown won’t be able to ease uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act in California, which receives nearly $16 million in federal funds to cover low-income residents who became eligible for Medi-Cal because of the law.
But he does have a say over other areas of Medi-Cal spending.
The California Budget and Policy Center, which offers independent policy analysis, said it will be watching to see if Brown proposes a plan for increasing payments to Medi-Cal providers from the $2–a-pack increase in the cigarette tax that begins in April.
The measure, which voters approved in November, is expected to raise more than $1 billion in the next fiscal year. The state budget must spell out exactly how to allocate the money to doctors and clinics.
Medi-Cal providers hope that Brown will maintain funding for a Coordinated Care Initiative program aimed to aid the sickest and poorest Californians who are covered by both Medi-Cal and Medicare.
Bridget Kelly, spokeswoman for Orange County Medi-Cal provider Cal Optima, said the program has resulted in better outcomes and lower costs. It’s also offered in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
• Does Brown want to fix our roads?
That crumbling freeway you use every day? It’s on state lawmakers’ minds, too.
California faces a backlog of road repairs and other transportation needs in excess of $130 billion.
The governor knows. He convened a special session in July 2015 to come up with a long-term solution. That session ended without a fix, because Democrats weren’t able to get enough Republican votes for a plan that would have raised $7.4 billion annually through a gas-tax hike and other revenue boosts.
Lawmakers are trying again this year. Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, are sponsoring similar bills to raise the gas tax by 12 cents, impose an annual zero-emission vehicle charge and boost registration fees by $38 to pay for road work, bridges and transit systems.
What’s different this time around? Democrats now hold a two-thirds supermajority, meaning they can pass tax increases without GOP support.
So we’re paying more at the pump, right? Not necessarily. A bloc of moderate Democrats in the Assembly might need convincing to sign off on measures that could take more out of constituents’ wallets.
• Will K-12 and colleges get more funding?
Yes and no, according to Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at UC Berkeley, who expects Brown to provide an additional $2.5 billion for education, based on the November Legislative Analyst’s Office report.
“Under Prop. 98, about 45 percent of the state budget had to go to K-12 education,” he said.
But most of that increase will go to the K-12 system, further “starving” higher-education systems already discussing the first tuition hikes in six years.
“He gives much more generous augmentations in these financial times to public schools, and he’s very miserly when it comes to higher education,” Fuller said.
Fuller also doesn’t expect much enthusiasm from Brown for expanding preschool.
But he does expect Brown, who’s generally been skeptical about having Sacramento direct education spending in the state, to try to shift how school construction is planned and directed from the Department of Education down to the local level.
The current system has previously led to larger, wealthier districts gobbling up state matching funds for construction before smaller districts have been able to scrape together the cash to qualify.
• Can we expect less spending on the environment?
Perhaps. The governor’s budget is expected to include a breakdown for natural resources and environmental protection. In his 2016-2017 preliminary budget, the governor allotted $8.4 billion to both areas, drastically reducing the amount of funding pledged to protecting the environment and only incrementally increasing the amount apportioned toward natural resources.
With changing priorities in Washington, D.C., and Brown’s continued support of environmental causes, it’s possible he could provide additional state funding where it might be lacking on the federal level.
Trump has packed his cabinet with climate-change skeptics and derided policies meant to combat global warming. In response, Brown has stated he intends to work with other nations directly on such issues. His budget could reinforce a commitment to environmental causes that might not see much support at the national level.
Staff writers Courtney Perkes, Jeff Horseman, Beau Yarbrough and Lauren Williams contributed to this report.