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OP-ED: Key issues for California’s Legislature
January 03, 2014, 05:00 AM Riverside Press-Enterprise

California’s Legislature starts the new year facing many of the same old policy challenges — issues which still demand attention. Legislators need to avoid the political distractions of an election year, and focus on addressing crucial public business.

Here are the key issues legislators should tackle in the coming year:

State finances: The Legislature should not use projections of flush times ahead as an excuse to abandon fiscal restraint. Legislators should know by now the dangers of spending money that has not yet appeared, given California’s volatile stream of tax receipts. The Legislature should use any surplus to stabilize state finances, by repaying billions in past budgetary borrowing and creating a real reserve. And legislators should put any additional tax collections toward one-time expenses, such as a large backlog of infrastructure maintenance projects, instead of ramping up spending on continuing programs.

Education: The Legislature revamped the state’s school finance system in 2013, and now needs to make sure that crucial reform succeeds. The state will direct more tax money to districts with large numbers of pupils who typically require extra academic help. But legislators need to ensure that the money actually goes to help educationally needy students, and that the state holds districts accountable for their use of those tax dollars. Legislators also need to streamline the costly, cumbersome process of firing misbehaving teachers.

Retirement costs: The state still faces a funding gap of more than $175 billion over 30 years for government workers’ retirement payouts, despite the limited package of reforms legislators approved in 2012. Legislators still need to direct teachers and districts to increase the money flowing into the teachers’ retirement plan, because the system is on course to run out of money in about three decades. And the state should move more retirees onto Medicare, instead of asking taxpayers to fund a separate health care perk for government workers.

Corrections: Legislators need to address both state and local corrections needs in 2014. The state needs to create a more coherent criminal sentencing system and provide incentives for inmates to participate in counseling and education programs that lessen the chance of reoffending. Legislators also need to ensure the success of the 2011 law that shifted responsibility for some felons and parolees to counties. Counties need sufficient resources, ranging from tax funding to jail space, to handle the new duties without harming public safety.

Water: Legislators still need to address the environmental ills of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which threaten water exports to the rest of the state. California also needs to increase water storage capacity, including catching and saving more winter storm runoff. And the state needs to improve oversight of pumping from underground aquifers. Legislators should start by creating an affordable, carefully focused water bond measure to replace the pork-laden $11.1 billion monstrosity now slated for the 2014 ballot.



Tags: legislators, state, should, money, needs, water,

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