January 21, 2015

By Guillermo Mayer

California has turned a corner. Our state’s economy has emerged from years of back-to-back budget deficits and steep spending cuts. Decades of organizing combined with the growing electoral power of people of color in California have ushered in new political forces in Sacramento that openly prioritize poverty alleviation, education equity, environmental justice and immigrant rights. With so much popular support and momentum in favor of reinvesting in California’s future, it is disappointing to see Governor Brown unveil a budget that under delivers on priorities that he himself has championed.

School Funding

The Governor’s proposed 8 percent boost in school funding is certainly welcome news. Home to one of the largest immigrant and low-income student populations in the nation, our schools benefit from every additional dollar invested. But as my colleague John Affeldt explains, Brown’s budget hardly moves the needle in the right direction:

[T]his increase—which is mandated by the minimum school funding formula set out in Prop 98—is neither cause for celebration nor for moving on to other priorities. Our schools will remain among the worst funded in the nation even if this budget is adopted, and our children will continue to suffer for it . . . . The Governor’s budget and the new Local Control Funding Formula only have us on track to return, by 2020-21, to 2007-08 levels when we were 44th in per pupil spending.

Funding our schools at adequate levels will take a bold vision and many years to accomplish. Simply investing the minimum level of funding required by Prop 98 is not going to get us there. That’s why Public Advocates is calling on the Legislature to weigh in and propose a multi-year plan to achieve funding adequacy.

Climate Justice

Governor Brown’s spending plan to address the climate crisis also leaves us perplexed. Last year, after calling climate change an “existential threat” to humanity, the Governor and the Legislature approved historic investments in clean air and clean energy programs that both stem global warming and prioritize relief to heavily polluted communities. It was an ambitious and inspirational start.

But this January, despite his inaugural address’ focus on climate change, Brown shortchanged key environmental initiatives by budgeting less than half of the revenues expected to be available for programs that reduce greenhouse gases. Ignoring the Legislative Analyst Office, which estimates that $2.3 billion in revenues will be generated this year by the state’s cap-and-trade program, Brown assumed only $1 billion of these funds will be available. He also failed to repay any portion of the $400 million loan he took in 2013 from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

The urgency of the climate crisis demands bolder action. That’s why Public Advocates and our allies are calling on the Legislature to pass a budget that significantly boost spending on climate initiatives this year, especially on those that benefit underserved communities.

California has made a great deal of progress over the past years by prioritizing education and the environment, and both Governor Brown and the Legislature deserve their share of the credit. But now is not the time to lose focus or squander the favorable economic and political winds in our favor. To safeguard our state’s future, we must demand bolder action from Sacramento in 2015.

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