The downside of Jerry Brown's budget

Tom Ammiano's not thrilled with the guv's plan

The guv is quite proud of his new budget: He's eliminated the chronic deficits, he's giving some more money to the schools, and he's vowing that the state will live "within its means." Which sounds like no more taxes. And gee, just about everyone in Sacramento is singing Kumbaya; the praise is coming not just from Democrats but from Republicans.

But there's a downside to the Brown budget: He has, to his credit, stopped the red ink, and he's presenting things in a brilliant way that makes him look like the grownup the state has needed for many years -- but he's doing very little to replace the the money that services for the poor have lost in the past five years.

"At first blush, it has some good things," Assemblymember Tom Ammiano told me. "But I don't see restoration of the cuts for the disenfranchised."

Ammiano is calling for closing Prop. 13 loopholes and passing an oil severance tax as part of the budget process. And with Democrats holding a two-thirds majority in both houses, those kinds of changes are possible. At the very least, it seems, the progressives ought to demand from Brown a plan to backfill what social service providers have lost. If it can't all happen this year, it ought to be part of the future budget process.

State Sen. Mark Leno, who chairs the Senate Budget Commitee, was a bit more politic than Ammiano, but he also is concerned that the budget move the state forward:

“With the improvement of our fiscal outlook comes the opportunity to continue our work to restore California. While our recent efforts have focused largely on making cuts in the least harmful manner possible, we will now have more capacity to refine our work to improve essential programs and analyze the role of government and its effectiveness. I look forward to working with Governor Brown and my colleagues in the Legislature to evaluate this year’s budget to help ensure it is the best possible plan for a state on the mend.”

On the mend is right -- because the state of California is in way worse shape than it was when Arnold Schwarzenegger took over and screwed things up, and the goal shoudn't be to keep at a steady state that's unacceptable. It ought to be returning California to its role as a leader in progressive policy. Sorry, Jerry: A balanced budget alone isn't good enough.

Oh, and Californians United for a Reponsible Budget, which seeks to cut prison spending, points out that this budget is hardly tough on the bloated corrections budget:

The administration has deserted plans to shrink California’s over-sized prison population, ignoring clear messages from voters. The proposed budget increases prison spending $250 million including a $52 million General Fund increase, bringing the total Corrections budget over $11 billion. Despite the passage of Prop. 36 and continuing realignment,  It also projects an increase in the prison population by 2,262 people over the 2012 Budget Act projections. ”If the Governor believes that ‘we can’t pour more and more dollars down the rat hole of incarceration’ then why is he increasing spending on Corrections, planning for more prisoners rather than fewer and defying the demands of the Federal Court and the voters to further shrink the prison system?” asked Diana Zuñiga, Field Organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget.

It's no surprise that the prison guards' union is happy.

UPDATE: An analysis by Ammiano's office shows a few other lowlights of the budget: It reduced AIDS Drug Assistance Program money by $16.9 million. It doesn't restore any of the deep cuts to the state's Welfare to Work Program. It cuts community college funding by tying state money to student completion, not student enrollment. It offers no additional funding for child care programs. It caps the number of courses students are allowed to take if they want to receive Cal Grants.

The Leg needs to take a hard look at this before it signs off on all these cuts.