The Assembly Democrats’ 5 Major Budget Priorities

On Tuesday, May 5, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Budget Committee Chair Dr. Shirley Weber and Democratic Caucus Chair Susan Eggman assembled a small gaggle of Capitol reporters around a long table in the Willie L. Brown Conference Room and presented the Assembly Democrats’ five major budget priorities.

The priorities will guide the caucus’ leadership team as they head into budget negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Senate after the governor revises his January budget proposal next week. The Assembly Dems are calling their priority list a “May Previse,” a play on the governor’s annual May Revise.

In contrast to the recession years, this year’s budget is bringing good news, as the rebounding economy will allow state elected leaders to negotiate over how best to serve Californians, rather than haggle over what essential services to cut. The new revenue forecast could be $6 billion to $8 billion higher than the January estimate. As Speaker Atkins told reporters, the Assembly Democrats don’t expect to get everything they want — “No one ever does,” she said — but spirited competition over more-robust-than-anticipated resources is a good problem to have.

With that, here are the Assembly Democrats’ five major budget priorities:

Priority No. 1:
Build Reserves and Pay Down Debt

Last year’s Proposition 2, first conceived by the Assembly Democrats, strengthened the state’s rainy-day savings. The caucus plans to follow through on that responsible, long-range approach by building up general-fund and public-school reserves and paying down the state’s accumulated debt.

Priority No. 2:
Invest in Schools and Early Education

Proposition 98 ensures that most of the increased revenues will go to California’s K-14 public schools (including community colleges). That’s a good thing: Voters have made it clear the education is a top priority, and the Assembly Democrats agree with them. We need to bring per-pupil funding up above levels seen before the recession. In addition, the caucus will look to help working families by increasing both the number of preschool and childcare slots and the rates paid by the state.

Priority No. 3:
Improve Funding for Higher-Education

The caucus wants to increase funding for both the California State University and University of California systems by $150 million, which is more than each is requesting. Assembly Democrats are committed to expanding access to an affordable university education, maintaining the spirit of the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education.

In order to get that additional funding, the UC system must meet conditions identified amid comprehensive oversight hearings before an Assembly Budget Subcommittee, which include freezing fees for resident high-school graduates and raising the tuition paid by nonresident students.

Here’s an op-ed Speaker Atkins authored on the topic:

Priority No. 4:
Reduce Poverty

The caucus believes that after the schools get their cut and proper contributions to state reserves are made, there will still be opportunities to help low-income families and workers.

The Assembly Democrats’ top goal for lifting families out of poverty is the creation of a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to augment the federal EITC, which has proven to be an enormously successful boost for hard-working yet low-paid Americans. Twenty-five states have their own EITC.

Last year, the Legislature asked the Legislative Analyst’s Office to list options for implementing a California EITC, and the LAO came back with three versions. The caucus has zeroed in on option No. 2, which would target very-low-income workers with a sizable tax credit, benefiting millions of people and pulling tens of thousands of them out of poverty.

Here’s an op-ed Speaker Atkins authored with Assemblymember Mark Stone:

Priority No. 5:
Down Payment on Transportation Plan

Assembly Speaker Atkins has floated a five-year, $10-billion plan for fixing the state’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure. As a down payment on that plan, Assembly Democrats want to return truck weight fees, revenue from which has been diverted to the state’s general fund, for use on roads and bridges. That amounts to $1 billion for roadway maintenance in the next fiscal year alone.

Here’s an op-ed Speaker Atkins authored on the topic:

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