Governor Brown's proposed budget appears to reinvest in California's future
by Mary Lou Goeke, Executive Director at United Way of Santa Cruz County
After several years of harsh budgets that imposed significant cuts to the programs that families rely on, United Way of Santa Cruz County is pleased to see that the governor's proposed 2013-2014 budget appears to reinvest in California's future.
Due to the passage of Proposition 30 last fall, education was spared from cuts in the governor's budget. Under Gov. Jerry Brown's plan, K-12 education would receive a boost of nearly $1.9 billion in funding, welcome news after a recent Education Week analysis ranked California 49th in per pupil spending. United Way of Santa Cruz County applauds the governor for introducing a new approach to school finance that would be transparent, equitable, and direct money according to students' varying needs. The governor's approach to school funding would permanently eliminate the dozens of categorical requirements, and instead allocate a flat base rate per pupil, plus an additional weighted amount for low-income students or those who are not fluent in English. This will give school districts with a high proportion of English language learners, like Pajaro Valley Unified, more flexibility to use resources strategically to ensure all students succeed.
We are also pleased to see that the budget invests in the state's higher-education system to help provide more affordable access to higher education for all California students. Over the past four years, fees have increased by $5,556 (84 percent) at the University of California and by $2,900 (97 percent) at California State schools. We hope that this year's budget provides stable funding growth over multiple years and eliminates the need for further tuition increases.
The governor's budget also sets aside $350 million from the general fund to expand the Medi-Cal program as part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a wise decision that will allow more of our state's lowest-earning individuals and families to receive health coverage in the program. This change is a crucial element of making good on the promise of the Affordable Care Act to expand coverage to millions more Americans, including the 41,000 Santa Cruz County residents who are currently uninsured.
While the vast majority of the costs to cover these newly eligible Californians will be paid for with federal funds, the governor has left open the question of whether this expansion should be managed by the state or by the counties. United Way of Santa Cruz County is optimistic about the promise of Medi-Cal expansion and looks forward to a continued dialogue between the governor, Legislature, and state and county agencies on how to best structure Medi-Cal to serve our communities.
United Way of Santa Cruz County also supports the governor's proposal to continue the Gross Premium Tax on Medi-Cal managed-care plans. However, we cannot support his plan to funnel the revenues into a proposed $1 billion reserve fund. These revenues have historically been used to ensure that low-income children have access to health coverage via programs like Healthy Families. With the elimination of the Healthy Families in the 2012-2013 budget, there have been various proposals for how to utilize these funds. While the past several years have clearly illustrated the value of a reserve to help the state through rough economic times, these revenues would be best spent on their intended purpose of ensuring California's future by shoring up health care coverage for low-income children.
We are heartened that the governor's budget contains no further cuts to the CalWORKs program, but are concerned about the $30 million cut in child care and early childhood development programs for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. United Way of Santa Cruz County strongly encourages the Legislature and the governor to forgo the cuts to the already underfunded child-care system which have been decimated in the past two budget cycles. Subsidized child care is essential to supporting gainful employment of low-income families. Without it, many families face a horrible choice between quitting work or placing their children in inadequate care situations.
While this budget is by no means ideal for California's most vulnerable populations, it inspires more hope than budgets in recent years, and smartly begins to rebuild our damaged health, education, and human services programs. United Way of Santa Cruz County is committed to working with the governor, Sen. Bill Monning and Assemblyman Mark Stone on a final budget that protects our children and families.