In anticipation of final approval of the California state budget, Senator Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) held a virtual town hall on Wednesday afternoon.
Stern sought to answer constituents’ questions about state spending under Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal. The budget, which totals $183 billion, will be finalized on Thursday.
“The governor, above all else, above anyone else, is doing the adult work to really discipline this process,” Stern said.
“That goes to paying down the debt, investing in the rainy day fund and not spending what we don’t have. I’m proud of that fiscal discipline we’ve shown and I hope we keep it up for whoever is going to be the governor the next time around.”
Overall, California’s economy is strong, Stern said. This overflow has allowed room in the state budget to pay down debt and to increase the savings fund to $12 billion.
The largest portion of the budget will go to health and human services at 32.2 percent, followed by 29.6 percent for K through 12 education and 8.3 percent for higher education, according to Stern’s office.
Further, 7.6 percent will go to corrections and rehabilitation, 7.0 percent to transportation, 5.1 percent to general government, 3.6 percent to legislative, judicial and executive governments, 2.9 percent to natural resources, 1.7 percent to environmental protection, 0.9 percent to business, consumer services and housing and 0.5 percent to labor and workforce development.
By answering questions and breaking down the budget, Stern said he was hoping to be accessible to constituents.
“The goal today is…to try to open up government a little bit more than it is here in Sacramento,” he said. “A deal has been reached, but that doesn’t yet mean everyone is going to vote for it. I want to hear your feedback based on what we go through today, how you think we should proceed.”
Several times throughout the livestream, Stern encouraged constituents to be civically engaged and welcomed their diverse opinions.
“You can say what a dummy I am or you think I’m fabulous,” the senator said. “This is democracy. You can do whatever you want. Please feel free to keep participating.”
This upcoming state budget provides the largest increase to education ever, Stern cited, as there is an allocation for $11,000 per student, compared to $9,000 in the past.
Funding increases for schools means better school facilities, better teacher pay and smaller class sizes, Stern said. Both after school programs and career technical education are “winners” in this budget, according to the senator.
Additionally, cuts were avoided to needs-based scholarships for private schools. California State Universities and community colleges both fared well, the senator said, but Universities of California could use more state partnerships.
“Education to me is the lifeblood of future economic growth in this state,” Stern said.
Also a large shift in the state budget, there is now a $27 million rate increase for intermediate care facilities for those with developmental disabilities, Stern cited.
California legislators are also planning to put $50 million in reserve funds into women’s health in anticipation of cuts to Planned Parenthood through the American Health Care Act.
After covering the largest portions of the budget, the senator took questions about bills and local issues.
Stern discussed a commitment to renewable energy from the state and from businesses.
“California has both the policy leadership and the dollars to help back stop any of this uncertainty,” he said.
He also touched on a need to tighten regulations for marijuana to keep it out of the hands of children, efforts to combat homelessness and the Santa Clarita Valley’s local water agency merger.
Stern addressed his support of the state gas tax because he said it will make roads safer.
Additionally, he said the audit of the UC system has been politicized, and while funding should be transparent, the money went to important services for students.
Stern said if he gets a positive response from viewers, he will do more virtual town halls and promised to do some in-person ones in the district when the Senate is on recess.
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