Budget Conference Committee Kicks Off
The Budget Conference Committee started up today amid bipartisan bickering, concern about cost shifts to counties, and attacks from all sides on the Assembly Democratic “jobs” budget.
Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, Dept. of Finance’s Todd Jerue, and Republican Senator Bob Dutton all jumped on the plan. They said it relies too heavily on borrowing one-time money for ongoing programs, creating even bigger problems next year, they disapproved of the plan’s “majority-vote taxes” (referring to the proposal to unravel the Triple Flip and impose an oil severance tax), and they questioned the constitutional legality of the plan, which relies heavily on borrowing without voter approval. Even if the courts eventually deem it legal, the inevitable court fight would probably prevent the state from selling the billions of dollars of RANs that it needs to get through the winter. Even Legislative Counsel, who the Assembly Democrats seemed to think would back them up, equivocated when asked directly about the plan’s legality.
The hearing started with quarreling between two of the committee’s three Bobs (Sen. Dutton and Asm. Blumenfield, with Sen. Huff rounding out the group but not joining in the dispute) about private-sector jobs and public-sector jobs and which ones are better, and the economic value of tax breaks (or tax expenditures, depending on your perspective).
Senate Democrats and Assembly Republicans seemed particularly attuned to the budget’s effects on counties, from realignment to cost shifts to mandate suspensions.
Most notably, Sen. Ducheny distributed to the members and the audience a chart CSAC prepared that outlines many of the major cost-shifts to counties that the governor proposes. (You can find other handouts from the hearing here (economic outlook), here (budget proposals compared), and here (the “yellow-brick road” of government finance since Prop. 13).) Ducheny also suggested giving counties more flexibility in administering human service programs, such as the Legislature did for schools and their categorical programs last year.
Conference Committee continues next week with two sessions every day. The plan is to talk about and vote on the following issues: Monday: transportation and resources in the morning, general government in the afternoon. Tuesday: public safety in the morning, human services in the afternoon. Wednesday: health and any remaining human services issues in the morning and afternoon. Thursday: education, unless there’s time for it on Wednesday, and some revenue issues.
The Constitution prescribes the Legislature pass a budget by June 15, a week from Tuesday. Given the number of major issues yet to be resolved, including realignment, taxes, program elimination, pensions, budget process reform, and job creation programs, we don’t suggest you hold your breath.