Revised California Budget Pumps Up Schools

     (CN) – Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget for 2013-14 channels billions more toward K-12 education, even as California faces a precarious economic recovery and its languishing “Wall of Debt.”
     After years of taking the state’s fiscal mess on the chin, California public schools will see $1,046 more money per student in 2013-14 if legislators pass Gov. Brown’s budget. That figure could rise to $2,754 per student by 2017 if his budget plans stay on their rails – thanks in large part to voters passing temporary tax increases last year, Brown said.
     The governor also found $1 billion for new technology to support the Common Core Standards test, which replaces California’s STAR testing in 2014. With an additional $240 million that gives local school districts more control, the first year of the scheme hits a total of $1.9 billion.
     A $500 million funding increase for the University of California and California State University systems, which Gov. Brown laid out in his January budget , remains in place with no change.
     Gov. Brown also wants an extra $48 million for job training and subsidized employment opportunities under CalWORKS, short for California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids.
     He additionally proposed a “revenue-neutral” overhaul of California’s enterprise and hiring credit programs, which he hopes will encourage manufacturing investment – and better employment opportunities – to the state’s high-poverty areas.
     Brown’s revised budget also expands Medi-Cal to access more federal funds provided by President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Unlike his educational plan – which hands more control to the local level – Brown wants increase the state’s role in indigent health care services, leaving counties in charge of only “safety net services.”
     “This budget builds a solid foundation for California’s future by investing in our schools, continuing to pay down our debts and establishing a prudent reserve,” Gov. Brown said. “But California’s fiscal stability will be short-lived unless we continue to exercise the discipline that got us out of the mess we inherited.”
     The “mess” includes a lingering $4.7 billion piece of what Brown calls “the Wall of Debt,” prison realignment, rising health care costs despite Obamacare and a tepid economic recovery, especially internationally. The governor also said the federal sequester could jeopardize future balanced budgets in the Golden State.
     “Actions taken by the federal government to address its own fiscal challenges could further strain the state budget,” Gov. Brown says in the revised budget summary . “Such a strain could take many forms – such as shifting of program costs from the federal government to states or reducing overall federal spending in California.”
     Brown said the revised budget is both balanced and sets aside a $1.1 billion rainy-day fund. But the governor also admitted that his revision is a multiyear plan that does not take future liabilities into account.
     Beginning in 2015-16, the state must find the money to help pay down a $38.5 billion unfunded liability for state employee pensions. And nothing has been set aside to address a $63.8 billion shortfall in health care funding for retired state workers – a figure that is projected to rise 59 percent by 2017.
     Meanwhile, roads and bridges in the Golden State continue to crumble even as its lawmakers continue to push a high-speed rail system that has been embroiled in legal challenges and could cost as much as $120 billion by the time the first segment is complete.
     “These liabilities and others were built up over many decades,” Brown’s revision states. “Eliminating the liabilities will also take many years, but doing so will constrain the state’s capacity to make other investments.”

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