By Graham Knaus.
The CSAC Legislative Conference is just getting started and we will be engaged in two full days of discussing policy, analyzing the Governor’s May Revision to the State Budget, and networking with colleagues from around the state. As we look into the next month of budget discussions, a full legislative calendar and the impact of an election year, I am optimistic about the prospects for California’s 58 Counties and the nearly 40 million residents we serve.
The state budget surplus this year is almost $9 billion. In his May Revision, the Governor allocated additional one-time funds for several of our most critical priorities including housing and homelessness, forest health and resiliency, and repaying counties for unfunded mandates. The $282 million for unfunded mandates is almost entirely coming back to counties for services we have already provided under what is known as “AB 3632,” mental health services for special education students.
The Governor also allocated an additional $359 million for services to the homeless. He and his staff recognize that if we truly want to address this complex and nuanced issue we need a holistic approach that includes more affordable housing and services for homeless people suffering from mental illness, substance use disorders and chronic health issues. We learned this first hand through the work of our homelessness task force, and we are pleased that the May Revision includes these additional funds.
The Governor recognizes that many counties have been devastated by recent fires and debris flows. The impacts are profound and the recovery efforts are far from over. I am also pleased that the budget proposal contains more funding for those critically important efforts as well. CSAC and our members have been playing an important role on the Governor’s Tree Mortality Task Force, and we just formed a Resiliency Advisory Committee that will meet for the first time at our Legislative Conference. Together, we can recover from the recent disasters and prepare for what comes next.
I am also optimistic about transportation funding, another of our most important priorities. There is strong support for Proposition 69, a measure designed to prevent the Legislature from using transportation revenue for other purposes. If, as expected, it passes in June, all of the revenue from Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) will be constitutionally dedicated to transportation projects only.
Dozens of SB 1 projects are already underway throughout California. Counties, Cities, and the State are making our roads, highways, and bridges safer and more efficient. Maintenance and improvement projects that have been delayed for years are now moving ahead. These projects are creating jobs, boosting our economy, and in many cases, saving money by fixing critical infrastructure before it deteriorates.
As you may know, there is an effort to repeal SB 1. If it is successful, vitally important improvement projects in every community in the state would have to shut down. CSAC is part of the coalition that has formed to oppose the repeal, and I hope you can join us in opposing this ill-conceived, politically motivated repeal effort.
California now ranks as the fifth largest economy in the world. Our unemployment rate is extremely low, and the positive economic news is now felt in many parts of the state where times have been tough for far too long. Having said that, we still have a lot of work to do.
We still need to ensure that the strong economy is reflected throughout California – in rural, suburban and urban areas in all corners of the state. And from cannabis to health care to bail reform and many other issues, California counties are facing unprecedented challenges. I think that’s why many of us became public servants in the first place – to make a difference in our communities.
Whether elected officials or staff members, we share a passion for improving our communities and helping to create prosperity for the people we serve. As we work toward that common goal, please know that CSAC is your partner and resource. In my new role as Executive Director, I am more energized than ever to foster a platform for the collaboration and communication that makes this work possible.