Today, the State Legislature will begin a new year of work with plenty of issues to tackle. While we will all take time to visit with the colleagues we haven’t seen in several weeks, there won’t be much time for socializing before we roll up our sleeves and get to work. The state budget, the economy, education, healthcare and public safety will be key issues in 2014.
The Governor has signaled that he would like to be prudent with this one-time uptick in unexpected revenues. We find ourselves in a paradox since Governor Jerry Brown is behaving as Sacramento’s most conservative Democrat. Nonetheless, we agree with him wholeheartedly that now is not the time to spend ourselves back into a deficit.
The best way to prevent the roller coaster spending of the past is to enact a true rainy day reserve. The Speaker has said that he would introduce a proposal but he hasn’t released details of his plan yet. However, if the Speaker’s plan is stronger than Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 – which will be on the ballot in November – then we’d be happy to take it under consideration.
We believe a more responsible way to use this unexpected tax revenue would be to pay down the estimated $300 billion (that’s right, BILLION) in unfunded liabilities and to tackle the billions still left in the state’s “wall of debt.”
Assembly Republicans believe that a strong economy is an essential element of a healthy budget. That’s why we also support taking a small portion of this one-time funding to invest in California’s infrastructure. Ensuring that we have reliable goods movement with improvements to our water, roadway, port and railway systems will keep California competitive in a global economy.
While long-term infrastructure investments will help improve our economy, Sacramento can take more immediate steps to help attract and keep job creators in California. Every year, Republicans introduce bills to ease the tax burden on job creators, lower the cost of doing business to make California more competitive for job creation, and provide regulatory relief to small businesses. Our goal is to help improve our economic climate so that we can lose the notorious distinction of being named every year by Chief ExecutiveMagazine as the worst place to do business. Sadly, our common-sense bills are usually killed by the majority party.
We hope that this year, Democrats will join us in reversing some of the regulations that have dampened our state’s economic growth. One of the most meaningful changes would be to reform the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. CEQA has been abused – not as a tool to help improve our environment as the law was intended – but as a tactic for opponents to effectively block projects through frivolous litigation. The Legislature has loosened CEQA for pet projects – namely sports stadiums, but we should expand these exemptions for projects beyond a chosen few.
Recognizing the link between a strong economy and a highly-educated workforce, Assembly Republicans have made also education a top legislative priority. Voters were promised that if they approved higher taxes, that new revenue would be used to protect schools. Assembly Republicans will hold the majority party accountable for keeping that promise.
Last year, the Legislature approved a new funding formula for schools. Assembly Republicans support the concept of restoring more local control over how classroom dollars are spent. However, this policy was negotiated solely between the Governor and Democrat leaders without Republican input. We have concerns that education funding formula shifts could create winners and losers, without including accountability measures or improving student performance. We will be watching the implementation of these new formulas closely to ensure that schools in need are getting the additional resources they were promised.
Another hot button issue will be seeing how Obamacare plays out in California, especially since our state is leading the charge in its implementation. Assembly Republicans have made no secret of our concerns about the federal health care law, yet we have presented solutions to improve the law as problems arise.
When the state exchange denied extensions for 1 million Californians whose plans were being cancelled due to the federal health care law, we announced that we’d introduce legislation to let people keep their coverage for an additional year. We also called for a special session of the Legislature to address problems with federal health care implementation.
Keeping our communities safe continues to be a challenge with the Governor’s failed policy called public safety realignment, which shifted thousands of felons from state prisons to overcrowded county jails. As a result, many criminals serve a fraction of their sentences and have been granted de-facto early release to make room for the influx of state felons. In the wake of realignment, we have seen crime rates rise. Republicans will continue to introduce bills to take the riskiest felons out of local communities.
However, Californians are now facing another threat – the early release of thousands of dangerous felons under a looming court order. Though realignment has cut the state’s inmate population to 123,000 inmates, a federal court has set a cap of no more than 110,000 inmates by the end of 2013.
At the end of last year’s session, Governor and Democrats adopted a bipartisan plan to avoid the early release of thousands of inmates. In December, federal judges extended California’s deadline to cut its prison population until April 18, while ordering that negotiations continue over how best to reduce inmate crowding. We hope that the bipartisan approach to addressing this challenge continues. Our members will fight to ensure that justice prevails and that dangerous criminals pay their debts to society.
2014 is shaping up to be a busy year, but our priorities of growing our economy, providing a quality education to our children and protecting our communities will not waver.