SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Anticipating a second year of surplus, Democratic state lawmakers are pressuring Gov. Jerry Brown to increase spending on welfare, health care, child care and other social programs to assist the poor.
California is expected to reach record spending levels behind an influx of tax revenue when the Democratic governor releases his budget proposal Friday.
The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office projected state revenue of $111.4 billion for the 2015-16 fiscal year, a 3.7 percent increase over the current $107.4 billion general fund budget.
Brown, however, fended off several new spending plans last year and has continued to emphasize restraint. At his inauguration this week, Brown said the state already has made massive financial commitments to health and human services and education. He noted that about 4 million more people are enrolled in the state’s low-income health care plan, Medi-Cal, as compared to 2012.
New legislative leaders, Assemblywoman Toni Atkins and Sen. Kevin de Leon, have said they want Brown use a projected $2 billion surplus for education, housing and jobs. They both have said that growing up poor has shaped their political outlook.
“It’s going to be a good discussion to have with the governor about where we can add some funding for programs that people need,” said Atkins, whose father was a coal miner. “Not all Californians have come back from the recession.”
De Leon, raised by an immigrant single mother, agreed. “Austerity alone is not going to grow this economy,” he said.
California’s poverty rate remains higher than the national average and advocates for the poor want to increase welfare, child care and funding for adult education.
Debora Avalos, a 28-year-old high school dropout working on her GED at Del Mar High School in San Jose, wrote to the governor as part of a class assignment, asking for adult education increases. “It’s a good investment because we want better jobs,” said Avalos, who wants to pursue a nursing career.
“It’ll be better for California because we’ll be making more money - and pay more taxes,” she added.
Bob Harper, director of the adult education program at Campbell Union High School District, which includes Del Mar, said recent changes to the state’s education funding formula has stripped support for adult education programs, which tends to serve high school dropouts and English learners.
He would like to see both funding increases and changes to the education code.
Even though the state has been able to restore funding to K-12 schools, pay down debt and tackle unfunded public pension liabilities, some advocates suggest Brown has ignored the issue of income inequality.
They note that California continues to give less in monthly CalWORKS welfare grants, has fewer subsidized child care slots and provides less cash assistance to low-income seniors and people with disabilities than it did before the recession.
“The governor’s management of the budget has clearly shown an ability to take the long view,” said Chris Hoene, executive director of the left-leaning California Budget Project. “The general public should be asking why there isn’t a similar effort in play around helping the low- and middle-income Californians who still aren’t experiencing the recovery.”
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