California must save more, but invest more, too

Gov. Jerry Brown releases his revised 2018-19 state budget proposal on May 11.
Gov. Jerry Brown releases his revised 2018-19 state budget proposal on May 11. Bee file

Gov. Jerry Brown, frugal to the end, wants to fill the state’s “rainy day” fund. Great idea. But for too many Californians, it’s pouring hardship right now.

Spending some of our state’s surplus – especially in non-repeating expenditures and investments in education, housing and infrastructure – could help alleviate a host of problems and keep others from getting worse. Spending more today might save money in the future.

Most obvious on the fix-it list is housing. Record numbers are living on the streets, which is as true in Modesto as it is in San Francisco or San Diego.

Brown is offering $359 million to help, plus $312 million for mental-health services. The mayors of the state’s 11 biggest cities want more, as do others. Democrats Scott Wiener of San Francisco, Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Jim Beall of San Jose want $5 billion over four years, including $2.1 billion for affordable housing, $1 billion for long-term and $1 billion for short-term homelessness.

But these programs do little for the thousands of families one or two paychecks from eviction. Home ownership for young adults is simply out of reach. Until the cost of housing comes down – preferably through market-based solutions – this dynamic won’t change. Cities and towns should have incentives to create plans to build more homes more quickly.

The state should restore funding to public universities and colleges. The annual tradition of nickel-and-diming the UC and Cal State systems betrays our values and shortchanges California’s future. An analysis this month by the California Budget and Policy Center reported there are thousands of high school students who qualify for CSU and UC admission, but can’t enroll because there is no room. Thousands end up not attending any college.

Brown’s budget proposal would give each institution $92 million, which ignores enrollment growth. That’s simply not enough. Giving CSU another $100 million and UC another $140 million would throw open the doors, allowing thousands more enroll. We like the governor’s online community college concept, but deferred maintenance on many campuses is more pressing.

And what about a medical school at UC Merced? The shortage of medical professionals in the San Joaquin Valley is simply a crisis. It’s time to fast-track the medical school.

Senate Republicans are right to demand more money to clear the backlog of some 13,600 untested rape kits – which could take criminals off the streets.

The plan by Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, and Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, to put more money into tracking and seizing guns from felons, the mentally ill and others shouldn’t even require a debate. There’s a backlog of 10,000 people on the prohibited list who might still have guns, says the state Department of Justice. Fund it and do it. Now.

In January, Brown proposed putting part of a projected $6 billion surplus into the “rainy day” fund to reach its maximum $13.8 billion. By the time he rolled out his revised May budget, tax revenues had surged, adding $2.8 billion to the surplus. Now he wants to stash another $3.2 billion for natural disasters and emergencies. Considering the increasing cost of fighting an increasing number of wildfires, that’s an extremely good idea.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office says the governor is still underestimating revenues by about $3 billion. So there’s room to do more in California, from better roads to safer forests to a new medical school.

We applaud Gov. Brown’s frugality. But sometimes the best way to save for tomorrow is by spending a little more today.