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OP-ED: Pay down debt and invest in California’s future
January 17, 2014, 05:00 AM By Kevin Mullin

Kevin Mullin

On Jan. 6, the Legislature reconvened for the second half of our two-year session. This year, we will consider well over 2,000 bills (far too many in my opinion), but the single most significant action we will take is adopting a 2014-15 state budget. As a member of the Assembly’s Budget Committee, we held our first hearing yesterday and have just begun reviewing Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal.

In the coming months, we will hold dozens of additional hearings. I am very optimistic that the Legislature and the governor are on track for a fourth on-time balanced budget in a row. We are making strides in paying down debt and making strategic investments that will serve to bolster our recovering economy. While I generally support the governor’s budget, there are still details to be worked out and areas that can be improved upon.

First, we need to start work on the California State Teacher Retirement Systems this year. CalSTRS faces a growing $80.4 billion unfunded liability and is expected to exhaust its assets in approximately 30 years. CalSTRS estimates that stabilizing the system could cost more than $4.5 billion a year, which could overwhelm other education priorities as well as other policy initiatives. This is a problem with no easy answer and there is no way to avoid increased contributions from teachers, districts and the state. I look forward to working on this to strike the right balance to make a meaningful dent in this outstanding liability.

Second, we need to work on the tax code. A rainy-day fund is obviously critical given our volatile revenue and I applaud legislative leadership and the governor’s plan to ensure we have a workable rainy-day fund. However, this is a symptom of an antiquated tax code. There have been working groups, commissions and panels established inside and outside of government in the past, but in reality we’ve done very little. Legislators, myself included, need to start moving on some of these proposals.

Third, we need to get redevelopment going again. There were abuses in many areas of the state, but cities in San Mateo County demonstrated redevelopment done right. We must give local governments strong economic development tools with the proper safeguards. This should include the re-establishment of tax increment financing as well as lower voter thresholds on revenue and bonds. The governor’s very limited proposal expanding the scope of “infrastructure financing districts” is inadequate. The dust is still settling on the dissolution of former redevelopment agencies, but both infrastructure needs as well as the severe shortage for affordable housing cry out for a more aggressive approach.

Fourth, we need to take care of our children and working families. Increasing funding for K-12 and paying down the deferred payments to schools is absolutely the right thing to do but, while taking a fiscally restrained approach, I believe we need to take this opportunity to make important investments in our future. Investing in both child care and early childhood education has a substantial return on investment. During the Great Recession, we eliminated subsidies for more than 100,000 children in the CalWorks program. We need to help people struggling economically with the high cost of child care. Gradually restoring these cuts will help people get back to work. As the economy recovers, we need to give struggling families a hand up and promote economic mobility. Starting to restore child care funding will do that.

Additionally, I believe we need to make the investment in universal early childhood education. Speaker Perez and Senate pro Tem Steinberg have been working with a variety of stakeholders including business groups such as the Bay Area Council and have come up with a proposal that will have long-term benefits and cost savings into the future. Very basically, the proposal would make transitional kindergarten universal for all 4-year-olds and strengthen existing early care programs for 0- to 3-year-olds. This proposal is fiscally prudent because we know from experience in other states that these programs will increase high school graduation rates and reduce our prison population down the road. This is a long-term policy step that will have substantial return on investment for all Californians.

The governor’s proposal is a strong start, and I am eager to start working through the Budget Committee process with my colleagues to refine and hopefully improve it. I would also like to invite residents of San Mateo County to email me at assemblymember.mullin@assembly.ca.gov or call my office at (650) 349-2200 with suggestions and feedback as we move forward.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, represents the 22nd Assembly District which includes cities in northern and central San Mateo County, and serves as assistant speaker pro tempore.

 

 

Tags: budget, proposal, working, state, start, there,


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OP-ED: Pay down debt and invest in California’s future
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