By Scott Wilk
There is a lot to applaud in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget. On its face, it seems to be a cut-and-spend framework focused on paying down debt and expanding our cash reserves. Yet it still increases government spending by $8 billion over the previous year.
I agree with Gov. Newsom’s proposal to pay down $8.2 billion in state debt, including paying down state and teacher pension obligations. His budget expands the state’s savings account by $3.2 billion, which would bring our total reserves to $18.5 billion.
There is also significant investment in emergency preparedness, including forest management, expanding firefighting surge capabilities, replacing helicopters, and providing CalFire additional aircraft. The draft budget also would update our state’s 9-1-1 system from analog to digital, which will allow dispatchers to reroute incoming calls to the proper first responder location much faster.
Over $550 million is proposed to go to school districts serving low-income students, money that will supplement funds for students with disabilities and special needs. Also, community college students will see another tuition-free year and the California State University and University of California systems will receive funding increases.
Gov. Newsom seeks to invest $2.2 billion in one-time funding to increase housing construction for all income levels and reduce homelessness across the state. I share his vision to increase housing availability, but we need to acknowledge that a real issue holding back increased development is that everything in California – land, labor, construction materials, insurance, California Environmental Quality Act fights, etc. – just plain costs too much.
When it comes to our housing crisis, the Legislature should give it the same priority as it gives the construction of new professional sports arenas by cutting red tape and waiving burdensome and duplicative environmental regulations. This principle of “addition by subtraction” translates to getting rid of programs and regulations we don’t need and streamlining others so government is actually helping people and laws are serving their intended purpose. In fact, we should duplicate this approach across all areas of government services, including health care, education, road building, and expand job opportunities and the economy.
As my legislative colleagues and I work with Gov. Newsom on making California more affordable, we also must keep in mind that our economy may be entering a slowdown period. We should recall the parable of the man who built his house on sand, instead of on a foundation of solid rock: “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27) Both Govs. Brown and Newsom have referenced that parable in recent speeches.
While our reserves and economy look strong now, I agree with former Gov. Jerry Brown (and the laws of gravity) that “what goes up must come down.”
I remain an optimist on the overall budget, but also recognize that this is merely step one of a work in progress, one that will go through many, many changes over the next six months.
Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, represents the 21st Senate District, which includes most of the Santa Clarita Valley.