By JEFF HORSEMAN and RICHARD K. DE ATLEY | The Press-Enterprise
Inland lawmakers and officials see both good and bad in the state budget proposal released by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday, Jan. 10.
Educators are happy the governor wants to steer more money to schools and universities, but court officials are not pleased with funding cuts, and one state legislator questions why there’s no money listed for UC Riverside’s medical school.
State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, said he was “very disappointed not to see specific funding identified” for the medical school, where classes for the first group of 50 students are set to begin this fall.
“There is an immediate need for more doctors to provide critical health care services to our residents and to all of California,” Roth said in a news release. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the California State Legislature and with Governor Brown to fully fund the UCR Medical School as the budget process now moves forward.”
Local officials have sought state money for the medical school since 2008. In 2011, officials delayed the first freshman class because of the lack of state funding, and the school’s medical accreditation was in peril at one point.
Last March, Brown said he wanted to hold off allocating state money for the school until California got its fiscal house in order. And although Brown bragged Thursday about the budget having a surplus for the first time in years – thanks to voters’ earlier acceptance of his Prop. 30 tax proposal – his spending plan did not specify any money for the medical school.
That issue may be settled in the Legislature where Roth and Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, have introduced separate bills to provide the school $15 million a year in state funding.
Brown’s proposal isn’t a final draft and lawmakers can make changes between now and the June 15 deadline to pass a state budget.
The proposed budget calls for cutting another $200 million from the state court system, as local court officials had feared.
Riverside County Superior Court officials project an approximately $12 million loss in next fiscal year's state allotment, Court Executive Officer Sherri Carter said by phone.
“Since (fiscal year) '08-'09, we will have sustained an almost $23 million cut in our budget” from the state, she said.
She said that one bit of good news is that the source of the $200 million to cover the loss of state budget money will come from the court's construction budget, and not the general fund, which finances operations.
But tapping the construction account likely will delay plans for a Hemet replacement courthouse and a new juvenile and family courthouse in Indio, she said.
San Bernardino County Superior Court Executive Officer Stephen Nash also noted that the state court construction funds appeared to be the target of cuts, rather than the court's general fund.
After reviewing the proposal, he held to an earlier forecast of an approximately $7 million to $8 million shortfall for the court next year, even after taking into account court closures and other cost-saving measures.
“It appears that the Governor’s proposed budget does nothing to mitigate that challenge,” Nash said in an email. “If true, that means that we aren’t in a deeper hole, though it appears that there is no funding to help us with our current financial challenges.”
If the governor’s plan is adopted, K-12 schools would receive $2.7 billion more. The University of California and California State University systems each would receive $250 million.
Inland education officials said they were glad to see schools get more money in Brown's budget, but are concerned about Brown's proposal to change the school funding formula. The proposed changes would send more money to California students with the highest needs, including those who are low-income or are learning English.
“My concern for Temecula is the new funding model may disadvantage our district. Then again, it may not,” said Lori-Ordway Peck, assistant superintendent for business support services for the Temecula Valley Unified School District. “There may be winners and losers.”
George Landon, deputy superintendent for the Lake Elsinore Unified School District, said he welcomes Brown's plan to repay about $1.8 billion in deferred payments for schools. Lake Elsinore is among the districts borrowing millions of dollars each year to pay employees because state payments have been delayed.
“We kind of knew with the passage of Prop. 30, it was going definitely to make it a better budget year,” Landon said. “Is it ultimately an opportunity to lessen some of the budget reductions? Possibly.”
The budget proposal is good news for schools, said Mike Fine, deputy superintendent of Riverside Unified School District.
“Generally speaking, this is a much more positive budget than we've had in at least half a decade,” Fine said.
Medina, the Riverside assemblyman, said the budget “reflects the fact that while California’s economy is on the mend, we still face a year of difficult choices.”
The Democrat said he would work to ensure the state budget is passed by the June 15 deadline.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, issued a statement calling new classroom funding “a positive step forward for California.”
But Huff, whose district includes part of San Bernardino County, said the budget contains only $2.7 billion for K-12 school funding “even though Proposition 30 taxes will generate $6 billion this year alone – Californians should be disappointed.”
State Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, agreed with the governor on the need for fiscal restraint. Democrats have a supermajority in the Legislature, meaning if they’re united, they don’t need the GOP’s help to pass legislation.
“We must keep the brakes on and live within our means,” he said in a statement. “He is also right that Democrats are going to have a hard time saying no to new spending and only time will tell if the Supermajority will have the fortitude to do so.”
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, said she’s hopeful her fellow lawmakers will exercise fiscal responsibility.
“I know there’s a fear out there that groupthink go into effect and the Democrats will all fall in line and do the same thing,” she said. “But I’m not convinced that’s going to happen yet.”