Sure, much is to be applauded in Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget announcement. Paying down the state’s “wall of debt” and ensuring money is set aside in a rainy-day fund are responsible and mature proposals when it comes to the massive annual project that is the California budget process.
However, the fact of the matter is that if he did not make those pronouncements, this day would be marked by long threads of statements expressing extreme worry about his irresponsibility.
And that, is a positive step. The fact that the California state government is finally waking up to the reality of budget cycles, debt obligations and the need for a true rainy-day fund to ease the dips and rises in the state’s financial system is a reason to be hopeful.
Now, it’s up to the Democratically controlled Legislature to see if they can keep their hands off the loot. The state’s budget surplus is estimated to be around $3.2 billion by the end of the fiscal year in July. Assembly Speaker John Perez has already pronounced his intention to create a rainy-day fund on one hand while, on the other, expressing an interest in a raft of ideas that take money such as preventing tuition increases for higher education, fighting poverty and the phase-in of preschool programs including universal transitional kindergarten.
That last item was noticeably absent in Brown’s budget proposal yesterday. But the idea has a head full of steam with Senate President Darryl Steinberg announcing his plans to get such a system going this year. Universal preschool has its detractors, notably those who wish the government to stay out of such programs, but also has many supporters who point to benefits such as retained learning, fewer issues with learning disabilities and easier transitions to kindergarten. Parents of young children also benefit in that the cost of independent preschools is sometimes prohibitive.
Brown has long been known to be frugal and this budget proposal of his reflects that. He has his own pet projects to fund, particularly high-speed rail and the Delta Tunnel project, so he can’t promise the world. But legislators will surely push for inclusion of their own pet projects, and universal transitional preschool is chief among them.
With a big chunk of money allocated to a rainy-day fund and to paying down the state’s debt, there may be some wiggle room for other programs — but the governor was wise not to suggest them. That way, only the most responsible and effective ideas will have a chance to squeeze in and other ideas with less merit will not.