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UPDATE: Brown vows to pay down debt, increase education spending in record budget

Posted: January 9, 2014 6:52 p.m.
Updated: January 9, 2014 6:52 p.m.

With California’s budget expected to show a surplus this year Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is taking aim at bolstering the state education system and tearing down a portion of the state’s “wall of debt,” according to a proposal unveiled Thursday.

“With a decade of intractable deficits behind us, California is poised to take advantage of the recovering economy and the tens of thousands of jobs now being created each month,” Brown said.

Forecasts estimate California will have a $3.2 billion operating surplus by the end of this fiscal year, and that surplus could reach $10 billion within three years.

A significant contributor to that turnaround seems to be Proposition 30, a set of temporary increases in the state sales and income taxes that were approved by voters in 2012.

Those increases were estimated to raise $6 billion a year.

One major area of spending under Brown’s budget proposal is education. Brown proposes $10 billion of new Proposition 98 funding this year, which is estimated to increase per-student funding in K-12 schools by $3,410 per student through the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

The budget also includes increased funding for higher education, pumping an estimated $1.1 billion into both the California State University and University of California systems as well as the state community college network.

“Simply put, this proposed budget does more to help community college students than any in recent memory,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris in a news release.

Other areas of spending include $815 million to address deferred maintenance projects on state infrastructure, $670 million to expand Medi-Cal benefits and $850 million to support greenhouse gas reduction efforts.

But despite the areas of increased spending, Brown also urged prudence, stressing that California’s billions of dollars in debt remain a tremendous hurdle.

“In the face of such liabilities, our current budget surplus is rather modest,” wrote Brown in his budget proposal.

“That is why wisdom and prudence should be the order of the day.”

Brown’s budget proposal includes paying down $11 billion of the state’s debt and also calls for stashing $1.6 billion in the state’s rainy day fund as protection against future economic downturns.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said he would like to see the rainy day fund beefed up further so it is available when the state needs it.

He also said the budget proposal appears to be “fiscally prudent” at this point, but that Brown may have to work to keep it that way.

“He’s going to have to reign in the more liberal influences in his party,” Wilk said of the governor.

State Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, said Brown’s proposal may be the best budget he has seen in his time in the state Legislature and praised the emphasis on reducing debt and establishing a rainy day fund.

But he also said he hopes for a fix to Southern California’s lack of rainy days — as the region’s water supplies have been constrained by dry years.

“Water is not coming this year and we know that,” Knight said in a video message. “So we do have to have a bond (to address water supply issues), we do have to have a fix to this and I think that’s something that the governor can push this year.”

Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Palmdale, said the proposal represented a “very responsible budget.”

“I wish to commend the governor for his budget,” Fox said in a news release. “A significant part of this proposal deals with debt repayment and no new taxes.

“Governor Brown wants to pay down our credit card, live within our means and plan for the future,” he continued.

The Legislature has a June 15 deadline to pass its own budget.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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