The California Senate has voted down a plan to extend existing tax hikes for a year, based on united Republican opposition. This, as the deadline to pass a balanced budget moves ever closer. It is now just two days away on June 15. Governor Jery Brown has even released a video on YouTube imploring lawmakers to allow the people to vote on his proposed tax extensions.
As soon as the vote was cast, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrel Steinberg’s local taxation bill came up for a vote, and it was approved along party lines. SB 23 1X would allow county supervisors and school officials to bring tax increase measures on local goods and services before voters to pay for local services.
Democrats also approved some changes to the budget outline passed in March, including using additional school funding to roll back $200 million in child-care reductions.
If lawmakers do not pass a budget by this Wednesday, they risk losing their pay until a budget is passed, thanks to voter-approved Proposition 25.
While the state legislature may find balancing the budget challenging, those who attended the nonpartisan Next10 budget challenge simulation at The Commonwealth Club last week were able to pass a balanced $90 billion budget in less than two hours.
The event included a panel featuring California Forward Executive Director Jim Mayer, KQED political reporter John Myers, and director of the USC Unruh Institute of Politics Dan Schnur, who spoke about the challenges inherent in dealing with California’s budget and helped guide the audience through a step-by-step process, asking them to vote on whether to add or subtract money for various programs, as well as whether or not to raise various taxes and fees.
“This is such a great effort,” said audience member Betsy Morris. “I appreciate it so much, (but) We can’t see any outcomes from the choices.”
Audience member Kenneth Agle agreed. “I’m having a bit of a problem in relation to these questions, because they’re talking about a system that already exists. What about performance-based budgeting? I don’t see that reflected here,” he said. “Here, we have an array of choices, but we have no idea about performance or how the cost-benefit analysis comes out.”
Mayer explained that the audience was dealing with the same parameters that the legislature currently deals with. “You’re working from the same deficit that our lawmakers face when making these decisions,” Mayer said. “What you’re looking for is exactly the information they should have but do not have.”
Mayer then discussed the next step in this process, which is to ensure that California moves to a more transparent and accountable system, passing measures such as SB 14 and SB 15, which would require performance-based and multi-year budgeting. Those two measures recently passed out of the Senate and are now being considered by the Assembly.
Schnur reminded people that Californians in different parts of the state have opposing priorities, which can make finding an agreement challenging for lawmakers.
“There are people across the ideological spectrum feel just as strongly as you do. You have to decide what you’re willing to compromise away to get to a balanced budget,” said Schnur. “When every single member of the CA legislature comes to Sacramento and faithfully represents their constituents, what we have is no budget.”
In the end, the group was able to balance the state’s budget, adding money to various programs, including education, choosing to raise various fees and increase taxes on the wealthiest of the population to help pay for their budget choices.
This exercise is happening all over the state. You can try your hand at balancing the budget, too, at budgetchallenge.org.