Gov. Brown outlines an optimistic future
By CYNTHIA MORENO
SACRAMENTO Bouyed by a voter-approved tax increase that has helped California get back on a more secure financial footing, Gov. Jerry Brown sees a state of optimism, progress and fiscal responsibility.
"The message is clear: California has once again confounded our critics. We have wrought in just two years a solid and enduring budget. And, by God, we will persevere and keep it that way for years to come," he said during last Thursday's State of the State address.
Brown commended the legislature for "overcoming the impossible" when making tough decisions on cuts and spending which made both 2011 and 2012 "remarkable years."
"What we have been doing tells us that California can still be good-minded and a governable state with a future that is brighter than ever," said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
"California has made extraordinary progress and this is the year for the state to set a fine example," he added.
Brown said the legislators' work on renewable energy, workers compensation reform and the launching of the nation's first high speed rail system were breakthroughs.
"The governor delivered a good recap of the work we have done and the future looks bright for California," said state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus.
But the real gains, said Brown, came straight from the decisions of Californians.
He credited the people of the state for placing their confidence in the legislature by passing Proposition 30.
"We have promises to keep. And the most important is the one we made to the voters if Proposition 30 passed: That we would guard jealously the money temporarily made available," he said.
Prop. 30 -- passed by 54-46 margin -- directs funds to K-12 schools, community colleges and state universities. It is expected to raise more than $6 billion in revenue.
Because of its passage, California legislators were able to come together and pass a balanced budget -- one that means "living within our means and not spending what we don't have," said Brown.
"It is cruel to lead people on by expanding good programs, only to cut them back when the funding disappears."
Brown highlighted a progressive agenda, detailing some of the state's major priorities including health care, jobs, transportation, high speed rail, climate change, water and education.
"Nothing is more determinative of our future than how we teach our children. If we fail at this, we will sow growing social chaos and inequality that no law can rectify," said Brown.
When it comes to education funding, no other community will be better served than those who are at a disadvantage, are low-income and schools where the majority of the students are English Language Learners.
"The fact that 3 million California school age children speak a language at home other than English and more than 2 million live in poverty means that we have a funding system that is overly complex, bureaucratically driven and deeply inequitable," said Brown.
Members of the Latino Legislative Caucus -- many of whom represent areas that would benefit from extra school funding -- were impressed with the governor's priorities.
"He wants to ensure the education system works. Giving money to schools that have continually struggled because there are not enough funds to keep them moving forward is a step in the right direction. It's up to us to make sure that the money that will be generated from Prop. 30 will go to help those students succeed," said Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella.
Some say, the governor is finally coming to terms with the state's changing demographic.
According to the NALEO Educational Fund and the state Department of Finance, Latinos will comprise 39 percent of the state's population, the same share as non-Latino whites by this summer and will become the largest population group in California later this year.
The U.S. Census shows the Latino population accounted for nearly all of the state's total population growth last decade, increasing from 11 million to 14 million between 2000 and 2010.
Funds for K-12 education will be based on a Local Control Funding Formula, but Brown did not describe what it will specifically entail except that it will "recognize the fact that a child in a family making $20,000 a year or speaking a language different from English or living in a foster home requires more help."
Legislators whose constituencies reflect a majority minority say the formula is a matter of equality.
"Many school districts in the rural and underserved areas will benefit from the formula because it will mean that more resources will be given to districts who need the money to operate and teach, especially in the classroom where the needs are not always met," said Pérez.
But many questions remain on funding for higher education, specifically for the UC system.
In the last few weeks, Republican Assemblymembers have introduced bills to prevent further tuition hikes and insist on a tuition freeze for the UC and CSU systems for seven years, the period the Prop. 30 tax increase will be in effect.
"If the political will is there, students will have more access to higher education and fee hikes will be a thing of the past," said Pérez.
Still the autonomy of the UC Board of Regents and the likelihood of future fee increases remains a possibility.
"I think we can come to an agreement. We can't tie their hands, but this budget does send a strong message and I believe there needs to be some reciprocity," said Pérez.
Lara believes the legislature would have to act if the regents decide otherwise.
"We would need to step in and revisit the autonomy of the regents. We need to keep the promise we made to California because anything less would be disingenuous," he said.
Lara and Pérez also noted the governor's focus on job creation, the economy and health care as important to their districts.
Pérez and Assemblymember Rudy Salas Jr., D-Bakersfield, said the states water issue is also a top priority.
"Water is a vital force in the Central Valley and crucial for the growth of California because it has a direct impact on the states economy," said Salas.
For Pérez, it is a public health concern.
"The water issues we face are critical from northern California all the way to southern California. If we don't take action now, there will be some major public health impacts in the future and our state will be liable, so its important we see the Delta as a priority," he said.