By Jason KUROSU
On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed California’s 2014-15 budget, one heavily dedicated to education and healthcare, as well as projects relating to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, including Brown’s polarizing high speed rail project, the bullet train.
Both K-12 and higher education will receive significant funding for technological infrastructure, the continuing transition to the Local Control Funding Formula, increased childcare for low-income families and more.
Much of the funding comes from Proposition 98, which guarantees certain minimum funding levels for schools each year. K-12 education will receive $60.9 billion of its $76.6 billion from Prop 98 funds.
The budget for higher education continues a four-year plan for increases in higher education funding, a freeze in tuition rates and $50 million for the promotion of “innovative models of higher education at the campus level that result in more bachelors degrees, improved four year completion rates, and more effective transfers between the community colleges and the universities.” The budget states a 5% increase in funding for each university system in the coming year.
Regarding teachers, the budget addresses the problems with the teachers’ pension fund, which faces a tremendous shortfall. The budget proposes a plan that would eliminate the unfunded portion of the fund in about 30 years. This would be done with increased contributions from teachers, schools and the state towards lessening the impact of the shortfall. The California State Teacher’s Retirement System Board would also be able to alter the increase or reduce state and school contributions if necessary.
Funding for environmental programs will come via the Cap and Trade Expenditure Plan, which sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions and provides incentives for investment in clean and efficient energy programs. Cap and Trade proceeds estimated at $832 million will go to support affordable and sustainable housing, energy efficiency, forestry and wetlands projects, and the increase of public transportation bus and rail projects, including the high-speed rail system.
The bullet train project will receive $250 million, as well as one quarter of future Cap and Trade proceeds. The budget summary states, “These investments in the high speed rail system will alleviate pressure on California’s current transportation network and will provide both environmental and economic benefits.”
Groundwater management programs and programs designed to increase drinking water quality have been allocated $3.7 billion.
Health and Human Services also received an increased portion of the budget, as Medi-Cal is expanded under the Affordable Care Act. The budget estimates an increase of 2.5 million Medi-Cal applicants this year, a total of 11.5 million. The budget also expands programs for pregnant women with low incomes, all-inclusive care for the elderly, in-home supportive services, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and more.
The budget also puts money into the state’s rainy day fund (also called the Budget Stabilization Account), a continuation of Gov. Brown’s “austerity budgeting” aimed at reducing the state’s deficit. The budget makes a payment of $1.6 million into the rainy day fund.
A ballot measure will also be placed on the November 2014 ballot, titled the California Rainy Day Budget Stabilization Fund Act. If approved by voters, this constitutional amendment would require longterm budget forecasts, yearly deposits into the fund of 1.5% of annual General Fund revenues and create a Proposition 98 reserve.