CalNonprofits Articles

When Governor Brown released his proposal for California’s 2014-15 budget late last week, a predictable flurry of press releases came out from California nonprofits. I'll do a round-up of nonprofit response later in the article, but first, let's summarize the budget: it's a “COO’s budget.”  

The budget proposal uses funds to pay down debt and addressed deferred maintenance (two sensible but unexciting issues), keeps the safety net and health services intact, and increases funding to education. This budget doesn’t make anyone’s dreams come true, but it isn't anyone's worst nightmare either. It prioritizes long-term fiscal health over immediate funding, and keeps many of our long-term compromises in place. In other words, the budget a COO would propose, not the budget of a hard-driving CEO with a specific vision. Years ago I served as director of programs in an advocacy organization and I talked with our COO-equivalent during our annual budgeting. When I urged her to look at staff raises and more money for events, she calmly replied, “Well, we could bump those up and give them raises, which they could enjoy for about six months before we would have to lay them off. “ 

Dull but important priorities
Similarly, the Governor, in his opening letter to the Legislature, makes quick work of the argument for using budget surplus to restore programs or make any fast changes beyond existing compromises: “Past budgetary borrowing, unfunded retirement obligations, bond costs, and deferred maintenance have created a mountain of long‑term liabilities that totals hundreds of billions of dollars. In the face of such liabilities, our current budget surplus is rather modest. That is why wisdom and prudence should be the order of the day.”

In keeping with the "sensible government" approach, just look at the titles of four of the budget's seven sections:

  • Achieving and Maintaining Fiscal Balance
  • Strengthening our Infrastructure
  • Paying Down Debts and Liabilities
  • Saving for a Rainy Day

Nonprofit voices on the budget
United Ways of California applauded the Governor for the commitment to education, and recognized the investment in Medi-Cal expansion and CalWORKS. But UWCA also called for more help to struggling Californians, especially in Medi-Cal. UWCA CEO Peter Manzo states, “The Governor’s budget proposal misses an opportunity to ensure that all of the newly enrolled and existing Medi-Cal beneficiaries have meaningful access to care and instead maintains the deep cuts to the Medi-Cal reimbursement rates made during the recession.”

Kathy Kneer of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California also expressed concerns regarding Medi-Cal and the reimbursement rate for providers: “Planned Parenthood’s costs for providing preventive and reproductive health services – like life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings, STD testing/treatment and contraceptive services – aren’t going down and continuing the 10 percent Medi-Cal cut puts providers in a very difficult situation.”

Health and Human Services Network of California joins the chorus that feels that the proposal does not go far enough to address the cuts to the safety net of years past. Vanessa Amayo of the California Partnership and a leader in HHSN-CA says, “We welcome the 6.4% increase in funding for In Home Supportive Services… and the 5% increase in CalWORKs monthly grants. However, these small restorations do not come close to reversing the draconian cuts of the last half decade."

Advocates who have been watching the rise of corrections costs in California’s budget were pleased to see cost-saving parole reforms, which could reduce California’s prison population, but also point out that the budget proposal will expand corrections spending on the whole. “These modest parole reforms are an important victory that communities have been fighting for years to implement. However, the state’s restrictions on the reforms will significantly decrease the number of people they impact, which is ludicrous given their plans to build more state prisons, bankroll county jail expansions and continue to send more people to contract prisons,” said Debbie Reyes of the California Prison Moratorium Project. “Gov. Brown is wasting billions of dollars and thousands of lives to expand a system he easily could be shrinking.”

Arts and environment nonprofits weigh in
Arts advocates weren’t shocked to find that the Governor’s proposal yet again funds the California Arts Council at the same rate as past years. “We were expecting it,” said Brad Erickson, president of Californians for the Arts, who says that arts supporters will continue to advocate for increased funding through the budget process this year. In 2013, California Arts Advocates and CalNonprofits co-sponsored a bill to significantly increase California’s investment in the arts, as part of a multi-year effort. (See Legislative Wins and a Victory in Defeat for more information.)

Environmental organizations had mixed perspectives: most were pleased to see a significant investment of cap-and-trade revenue in programs intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as required by Assembly Bill 32 from 2006. But environmental advocates were split regarding an investment of $250M in high-speed rail, and all felt the proposal needs a close watch. Bruce Reznik of the Planning and Conservation League says, “We appreciate the allocation of $850M of cap and trade revenue to be distributed this year to meet the goals of AB 32, including $225M to be invested to benefit disadvantaged communities. It is important that all allocations – including those earmarked for High Speed Rail –go through a rigorous assessment ."

Joe Lizsewski of California ReLeaf, an urban forestry coalition, commented on the proposal to direct $50 million to CalFIRE for greenhouse gas reduction programs including urban forestry: “This proposed funding demonstrates the recognition of urban and community forestry projects as an important part of California’s plan to advance greenhouse gas reductions, strengthen communities, create jobs, and spur innovations.”

Perhaps the best news about the Governor’s budget proposal for the nonprofit sector is simply the attention the sector continues to pay to the process, and the active role advocates play during budget negotiations. In the coming months, the Governor, the Legislature, the nonprofit sector and countless other interests will attempt to craft and influence the budget bill, culminating in the passage of a budget (hopefully) by June 15.

In an election year in which Governor Brown is likely to run, the Governor is likely to hold his ground with a COO’s budget, a proposal that emphasizes fiscal health and avoids upsetting or pleasing anyone too significantly.

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