Upfront: Prudent moves

Highlights from Governor Brown’s proposed 2016-17 budget

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Governor Brown, in his 2016 State of the State address last week, emphasized prudence and discipline. Photo courtesy of Ca.gov.

By Tom Gogola

Emphasizing that the next recession might be right around the corner, Governor Jerry Brown released his $170 billion 2016-17 budget on January 7 with an emphasis on putting a little something aside—$2 billion—for the state’s Rainy Day Fund. He emphasized prudence and discipline, yet again, during his 2016 State of the State address last week.

It’s hard to not hover around the idea of a “rainy day fund” in a state that’s been dealing with a drought for the past four years—and Brown’s budget has a number of drought-beating water security items embedded within it, including an update of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), with $3.6 million earmarked to flow the WaterFix Delta conveyance plan into the broader BDCP.

That means that, yes, Brown is pushing ahead with his plan to build two large water tunnels to ensure the flow of fresh water from the Sacramento River southward. The water-security part of the plan has been cleaved from habitat restoration efforts underway in the Delta. The broader effort is now undertaken as the so-called “4A option,” which state and federal authorities proposed last April. Now the California Natural Resources Agency is the lead agency on the habitat restoration part of the deal, under the so-called EcoRestore plan, while WaterFix builds the tunnels and other associated infrastructure to hedge against future droughts and their crippling impacts on Big Ag.

The BDCP is just one of a number of budget nuggets released by Brown that are of especial interest and concern to the North Bay and to progressives, generally. Here are some of the highlights:

Criminal Justice Reform

Brown’s budget summary notably highlights a budget item for the Sonoma County Main Adult Detention Center that would send $1.5 million in 2016-17 (on top of $500,000 in 2015-16) to Sonoma to provide the county lockup with 10 “jail-based competency treatment beds,” through a contract with the Department of State Hospitals. There are 148 such beds already in use around the state; they are used to help rehabilitate inmates to a point where they are competent to stand trial. The push for competency beds comes as Sonoma moves forward on plans to build a new facility dedicated to special-needs prisoners after securing $40 million in state money late last year.

Brown’s budget also responds to two recent lawsuits brought against the state that address broader issues around criminal justice reform. Under his plan, the state will spend $9.3 million to comply with the ruling in Sassman v. Brown, “which requires the state to expand the existing female Alternative Custody Program to males.” Under this program, inmates serve out the last year or two of their terms in home detention or a residential facility. This bill could prove a boon for private providers of electronic monitoring services, given the expanded pool of inmates. “It is unclear how many males will ultimately qualify for an alternative placement,” Brown notes in his budget summary. “Consequently, future budget adjustments may be necessary to capture the full impact of this program expansion.”

The state also reached an agreement last year in Ashker v. Brown that hit on the overuse of solitary confinement in its prison system. The agreement, notes Brown, moves the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation “away from a system of indeterminate terms for segregated housing to a system that focuses on determinate terms for behavior‑based violations.” The state would save $28 million by shutting down some solitary confinement units, and Brown pledges to spend $5.8 million “for additional investigative staff to monitor gang activity in prisons as the new segregated housing policy changes are implemented.”

Fire Protection

Brown is offering some $300 million to deal with damage from last year’s big fires in Lake and Calaveras counties—but the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is hampered in its fire-stopping efforts because of its fleet of 12 Vietnam-era military surplus helicopters, which are aging and not up to the task, CAL FIRE says. Brown offers an unspecified figure for the replacement of the choppers and says he is waiting on a procurement plan from CAL FIRE and the Department of General Services, which should be unveiled this spring, just in time for fire season.

In-Home Supportive Services

Sonoma County went through a big fight last year over raising the wages for In-Home Supportive Service (IHSS) providers, as wage agitators failed to convince the Board of Supervisors to increase their wage to $15 an hour. Those workers currently make $11.65 an hour in Sonoma, and $13 an hour in Marin County.

Brown says it would be nice, but fiscally foolish to push for a statewide $15 minimum wage (it’s $10 an hour as of January 1) for all workers, but in the meantime, Brown and the legislature have to deal with a federal Department of Labor ruling from last year that said IHSS workers are entitled to overtime payment, travel time between clients, and wait time related to doctor visits. Brown also proposed to lift a 7 percent reduction in service hours slapped on IHSS workers around the time of the Great Recession, which he says will cost the state $236 million in 2016-17. The overtime ruling could cost nearly $1 billion a year starting in 2016-17; about half of that would come from the state’s general fund. “These regulations will lead to over $440 million annually in additional state costs,” notes Brown. The federal overtime rules are anticipated to be implemented in February.

Medical Marijuana

Last year, Brown signed off on the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, a statewide regulatory framework that will oversee the “licensing and enforcement of the cultivation, manufacture, transportation, storage, and distribution of medical marijuana.” Brown is asking for $25 million and 126 new state positions, spread across numerous agencies—Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Food and Agriculture and the State Water Resources Control Board, among others—to ensure a steady and just roll-out of the new medical cannabis regime.

Sonoma Developmental Center

The feds have pushed the state Department of Public Health to shut down the three so-called “state developmental centers,” located in Porterville, Fairview and Sonoma County. Brown notes that the state entered into a settlement agreement with the Sonoma Developmental Center that will keep federal funds flowing there through this July or next, “depending on the state’s continued compliance with the agreement.”

The agreement is that the center will close by 2018. Brown would send $24.5 million to the center “to assist in the development of community resources for placement of current developmental center residents.” Another $18 million is earmarked for the three centers to deal with, among other issues, workers’ compensation claims, and to relocate residents and their personal belongings—a big worry for families of some of the long-term residents at the Sonoma County facility.

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