State budget: Mixed bag and full of mystery

June 13, 2013 

Governor Business Leaders

Gov. Jerry Brown said California has solved a lot of problems, like balancing the state budget, while speaking before a gathering of business leaders at the California Chamber of Commerce's 88th Annual Sacramento Host Breakfast in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Brown credited the recent tax hike and improving economy for helping to end a decade of deficits. (AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli)

RICH PEDRONCELLI — AP

The state budget deal crafted by legislative Democrats and the governor contains much to praise and much to criticize and much, much more that is unknown. Here is how it all breaks down:

The good:

• Gov. Jerry Brown will succeed in changing how public schools are financed, shifting money to districts with high numbers of disadvantaged students and eliminating many of the "categorical funds" that proliferated over the years. The result will be more local control over education decisions, with less micromanagement and mandates from Sacramento.

• The governor handed counties a partial victory by not imposing new programs on them, including child care and CalWORKS.

• The budget plan improves funding for mental health services and restores funding for adult dental care under Medi-Cal. Both are worthy investments that will improve the health of Californians.

The bad:

• The governor will succeed in diverting $500 million in cap-and- trade funds to the general fund. Because of this precedent, lawmakers and-or the governor are almost sure to attempt it in future years. Lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 32 — and voters fought off an initiative to gut it — because they wanted California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown that governments can achieve a higher reduction of emissions when revenue from carbon taxes or cap- and-trade programs is used for energy efficiency and conservation programs, instead of spent on general purposes. The governor's money grab is an insult to voter wishes.

• Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez will succeed in enacting his "middle-class scholarships," which will ultimately cost the state $305 million each year. We support helping families pay for higher education; there are other ways for lawmakers to do that. They could increase Cal Grants or other awards. They could take direct steps to reduce tuition or increase enrollment.

Apparently, however, such ideas didn't appeal to Pérez in his push to pass "legacy legislation" that would have his name on it.

The unknown:

• The final budget, which lawmakers are expected to pass today, is sure to include numerous trailer bills that few lawmakers will be able to closely read before voting. No judgment can be rendered on a budget until these are vetted, and unfortunately, they won't be vetted before reaching the governor's desk.

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