Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed blend of paying down debt, establishing a rainy-day fund and sending capital gain revenue to reserves is a fiscally prudent budget unlike those of bleaker past years, according to county officials.
“This is so much better than the first budget I looked at three years ago,” said Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, who lauded the budget’s “fiscal responsibility.”
Fellow legislator state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, also called the message a “very practical election year budget that appears to be responsible at first blush.”
Closer to home, San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie thinks the proposed budget details won’t greatly change any of the existing health care and social services program but also knows there may be a lot of changing between now and the governor’s May budget revision.
“I don’t say that I don’t look at it but sort of smile and then say we’ll see in May,” Maltbie said.
The state’s big budget upheavals happened last year with the taking of the health realignment funds in response to the Affordable Care Act and the formula change in local school funding, Maltbie said.
“It certainly looks like a status quo budget right now,” said Iliana Douglas, director of the Human Services Agency.
The state budget proposal does call for a reinstatement of 5 percent to welfare grants. Douglas said HSA welcomes the restoration for its 2,300 families on CalWorks public assistance but with the caveat that it still falls short.
“It will certainly help our families but, with the cost of living in our county, it is still challenging for people,” she said.
HSA, like all affected county departments, is digesting the budget details and expects to have more answers about potential impacts next week.
The courts are also taking a cautious approach to the proposed budget which calls for a $100 million partial restoration to the state trial courts. John Fitton, San Mateo County Court executive officer, said the funding is appreciated but still only a fraction of what the judicial branch has lost through more than one billion dollars in cuts dating back to 2008.
“Justice remains at risk — particularly for those who are most vulnerable,” Fitton wrote in an email to the Daily Journal.
In San Mateo County, these cuts have meant a 34 percent reduction in workforce and reduced service hours along with laying off three commissioners and closing four courtrooms, he said.
Although Maltbie doesn’t see much change for San Mateo County in this preliminary budget, he said there may be some benefit to open space and parks.
Sheriff Greg Munks also sees positives in Brown’s approach to reduce prison overcrowding and assistance for counties housing former state inmates now in local control because of realignment.
The county, which has previously lost out on millions in state jail construction funds, won’t likely benefit from a proposed new round of $500 million in awards because the facility is underway, Munks said.
However, he is pleased the governor is moving forward with plans to let inmates sentenced to more than 10 years in county jails serve the time in state prison. The shift is predicated on the state being able to comply with the federal judges’ prison crowding reduction order.
The county only has a couple such inmates but the realignment population as a whole has led to an increase in jail assaults and conversion of jail space for segregation, Munks said.
“I’m pleased with his acknowledgment and recognition of the burden that counties are feeling as a result of realignment,” Munks said.
Munks added it may not be enough and the discussion may need to go farther.
The budget proposal also calls for increased money to court security which will go to the Sheriff’s Office.
“All in all, I think he is following up on his work to continue to work with us on these real issues,” Munks said.
The investment in public schools, especially the increase of more than $600 per student and college tuition freezes, particularly excited state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo. State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, similarly appreciated the budget but said Brown’s plan to pay down debt and build reserves but also be augmented by what he called a “balanced, long-term plan for recovery.”
Not every aspect of the budget proposal drew praise.
Gordon said he was concerned about the plan to allocate money from the cap and trade program to high-speed rail. Gordon wants the revenue immediately used on shovel-ready projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Gordon, who belongs to the budget subcommittee on transportation and resources, expects there to be “a very thorough discussion” on the plan.
Like Gordon, Hill and the others also say that yesterday’s budget message is just the beginning.
“It’s a good first start,” Hill said. “Now we can improve upon it.”
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