Lawmakers hopeful about state budget: Education, transportation, housing, climate change addressed | Local News

The California Legislature passed its fourth on-time balanced budget in a row Sunday and San Mateo County’s legislators said they are generally pleased with the fiscally prudent plan that invests in programs to address education, sustainable transportation, affordable housing needs and climate change.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, said he was pleased with the legislative process and outcome.

“As a member of the budget committee, this is the biggest thing we do in Sacramento by far, is adopting this budget and I’m very optimistic that this is a very strong spending plan with fiscal prudence,” Mullin said. “This year, compared to last year, members of the budget committee had many opportunities to provide input to help shape this spending plan. … I was encouraged by the process and there’s no question that this spending plan gets the balance right between paying down debt and investing in critical programs for California’s future.”

Gov. Jerry Brown has until June 30 to sign the proposed $156.4 billion budget that outlines a $108 billion general fund, allocates $2.1 billion in reserves, which includes a $1.6 billion rainy-day fund, and spending $12.4 billion toward paying down the state’s debt.

Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, said the continued progress the state has made with its balanced budgets over the past four years has been encouraging.

“I think what’s very important in this budget, we’ve made great progress in paying down the debt of the state, we set up a reserve … we have made some additional investments in areas that I think are of importance to us. We put more money into early childhood care, we invested more money in K-12 education and we increased funding in our universities and state colleges. It’s a budget I’m proud of,” Gordon said.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he’s happy to see provisions for early childhood education and addressing the state’s $73 billion in unfunded liabilities.

“I’m very happy to see funding go toward higher education, that’s kind of the backbone of California,” Hill said. “We need to reinvest a little of these funds to what California needs, which is a quality of life that goes with California and we need to support that.”

Hill said he’s disappointed Medi-Cal reimbursement rates weren’t raised since the state enrolled more into the program. With the high cost of doing business in the Bay Area, local doctors may decide to start turning down Medi-Cal patients, Hill said.

Mullin, Gordon and Hill said they were thrilled to see items they’d worked on and which benefit their constituents addressed through the state’s new cap-and-trade program.

As the first year the state has been able to see the program in action, the proposed budget outlines spending $872 million on projects to include high-speed rail, water action plans, sustainable forests, waste diversion, low carbon transportation, affordable housing and addressing climate change.

Mullin said this landmark program was an important part of the budget discussion.

“I was encouraged that there’s going to be money in more land use planning and affordable housing and creating sustainable communities. Because land use most certainly has an impact on GHG, greenhouse gas reductions, and I was pleased to vote on that portion of the budget,” Mullin said. “I’m encouraged that there’s cap-and-trade revenue money for affordable housing but there is much more that we could do going forward.”

Mullin said about $130 million of cap-and-trade revenue will be allocated to affordable housing needs, but the total budget doesn’t provide significant relief to allow local governments to be creative in making up for the loss of redevelopment agencies.

“I’m pleased that we’re putting $230 million toward housing, but in my opinion, more can be done on this issue that matches the scale of the problem,” Mullin said.

Hill said cap-and-trade spending on sustainable transit addresses both long- and short-term needs. About $500 million is aimed at transit including $250 million to high-speed rail and $25 million toward intercity rail capital programs.

This helps to address the Bay Area’s transit woes, Hill said, as Caltrain’s electrification project hinges on high-speed rail funds and the budget can provide for improved train and bus routes.

“Place money where we can get the biggest bang for the buck and that’s really why I supported moving forward with high-speed rail, is we’ll continue to see the benefit of those funds locally and in very meaningful transit improvements so we’re not just wasting money on a train to nowhere. The money will be focused on getting us some immediate utility and benefit that will get cars off the road,” Hill said.

Gordon is the chair of the Assembly’s select committee on sea level rise and said the budget’s allocation of cap-and-trade funds to address climate change is reassuring.

The committee helped establish the California Climate Resilience Account earlier in the year and the budget has proposed funding the account to encourage cities to address climate change in future local planning, Gordon said. The California Coastal Commission, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the Coastal Conservancy will divide funds to competitive proposals, Gordon said.

“One of the things we recognize in our work is additional planning and preparation for sea level rise needs to be occurring at the local levels and one of the things this budget does is establish a climate resiliency account and makes $2.5 million available for grants to local governments for planning,” Gordon said. I think it’s a very good first step in moving us toward the response that California will need to (make) with the rising of our seas.”

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