No water tax and more funds for rainy day

On June 27, three days before fiscal year 2018-19 began, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the budget bill — his last budget.

He expressed a lot of pride on how California’s financial condition has improved in the past seven years. In particular, the state now has a Rainy Day Fund exceeding $13 billion.

When he assumed the governorship in January 2011, California was deeply in debt and annual budgets were consistently running deficits.

“When I took office back in 2011 with the state facing a $27 billion deficit, I pledged to work with the Legislature to fix California’s financial mess,” said Brown. “Today, the final budget I sign delivers on that pledge and prepares us for the future.”

The total state budget, including special funds and bonds money, exceeds $200 billion, of which nearly $140 billion comes from the General Fund.

Besides the Rainy Day Fund, the new budget provides another $500 million for emergency block grants for homeless programs and projects. In total, funding for affordable housing and homelessness is nearly $5 billion.

The new budget expands funding for public education in local school systems, and the state’s college and university systems,

Construction and maintenance of the state facilities such as courts, universities, flood control and others was funded at more than $330 million. And the new gas tax and vehicle fees will provide $4.6 billion for transportation projects such as roads and state highways.

The “water tax” proposed last August in Senate Bill 623 to fund projects in areas with contaminated water and low resources was not included in the budget agreement. The Assembly and governor, however, did agree to appropriate $23.5 million “for allocation to safe drinking water actions later in this legislative session.”

The budget agreement includes funds for Cal Fire to draft plans to remodel the Perris Emergency Command Center and to replace the Prado Helitack Base in San Bernardino County.

There also is $30 million to fund 79 positions for six year-round fire crews to initiate and complete fuel-reduction projects. The goal is to treat 60,000 acres annually.

Another $100 million was approved to replace Cal Fire’s helicopters. This will be the first year of a multi-year effort.

The budget package also includes $134 million for counties to modernize aging voting equipment and $3 million to create the Office of Elections Cybersecurity and the Office of Enterprise Risk Management, according to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. These funds will support counties’ efforts to upgrade or replace voting equipment, including purchasing ballot-on-demand technology, electronic poll books, and open-source voting systems, and strengthen security of the voting process.

And the Legislature and governor funded cannabis-related state activities with $133 million.

“The budget passed by the legislature today [June 14] has much to offer, but falls far short of being the best it could be for the hard-working people of California,” said State Sen. Jeff Stone (R-District 28) in a press release after the Senate vote on the fiscal year 2018-19 budget.

“The budget is about our state’s priorities, and this budget reflects many positive priorities including increasing our Rainy Day Fund to nearly $14 billion, a prudent savings since we know an economic downturn is inevitable,” Stone continued. “This is certainly not the worst budget I could have imagined …”