By Christopher Nelson of California Forward
As May Budget Revisions go, this one was different.
In past years, the annual May Budget Revision has reflected the need for spending adjustments, usually reductions. The final budget normally reflects which programs will survive. Important decisions, to be sure, but the same type of rhetoric each year.
This year, Governor Brown made it much more than just a budget revision. He made it about the way California makes decisions. The concept of true governance reform permeated today’s Budget Revision, and Governor Brown was pushing it. The theme you heard is that Sacramento may not know best. More on that in a moment.
As California Forward’s Jim Mayer opined last week, “Lawmakers should treat the $4.6 billion as “one time” money, as opposed to a permanent growth in revenue. Why? Because that’s probably what it is.”
That’s what the Governor said, acknowledging the next 14 months are unknown, as witnessed by him proposing an essentially flat budget. The economy is fragile and these revenues realized this spring probably won’t return. So the Governor is holding the line on spending.
The best way to increase state revenues, of course, is to create more middle class jobs. The Governor understands that as well as anyone. And given the complexity of California’s economy, which is really a series of regional economies, California Forward and the California Stewardship Network have been gathering local leaders and business people in 16 different regions around the state to discuss what needs to happen in order to increase jobs and improve the state’s ability to compete in a global economy. These findings will be shared at the California Economic Summit in Los Angeles in November.
At many of those meetings has been the Governor’s own head of Business and Economic Development, Kish Rajan, who has been listening to these local leaders talk about the need for regulatory reform, better workforce preparation and infrastructure investment.
“Working with regional leaders, Kish Rajan and others who have the goal of creating more middle class jobs for California is the very heart of our work,” said Susan Lovenburg, who leads the Economic Summit for California Forward.
Now about this governance reform, the Governor is pressing for spending decisions to be made at the local level, by school districts when it comes to education and by counties when it comes to public safety realignment.
“In education, local accountability provisions are strengthened to ensure that district expenditures further the education of students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth,” said Fred Silva, senior fiscal policy advisor for California Forward.
And for public safety realignment and the implementation of AB 109, the Governor understood that counties probably weren’t given enough resources to ensure an efficient result in moving low-risk offenders to the counties.
“We’ve been working with counties on implementing AB 109,” said Mayer. “The extra funding acknowledges the importance of this work and can help bolster developing and sharing data that can make informed decisions about how to best make realignment work first for public safety and then in other major areas as well.”
Is this a real sea change in governance in California? It’s too early to tell. But the message from Governor Brown seemed clear today. More decision making at the local level is a good thing.
Hard to argue with that.