Governors plan sees budgetary day of reckoning
By Kate Campbell
Citing the nation's slow economic recovery that produced lower-than-expected tax revenues, Gov. Brown issued a revised state budget Monday that he said protects funding for education and public safety while slashing $8.3 billion from government to close a $15.7 billion deficit.
It reflects a reduction in the state's 2012-13 budget from January's proposal, to $91.4 billion in general fund spending. The new plan—known in government circles as the "May revise"—calls for deeper program and administrative cuts. It depends on passage of the governor's tax initiative on the November ballot and on availability of money from a multi-state mortgage abuse settlement with banks.
The new budget proposal includes additional reductions of $2.5 million to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and changes to timber harvest plans that couple administrative reforms with a new assessment on retail sales of wood products.
California Farm Bureau Federation policy specialists said they are studying the revised budget plan and would offer detailed recommendations to the administration and the state Legislature.
"Throughout the budget process, Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations have been able to offer recommendations about how to prioritize CDFA spending to help the department maintain functions of the greatest importance to farmers, ranchers and consumers," CFBF Administrator Rich Matteis said.
The governor's revised budget proposal said CDFA "will collaborate with its stakeholders to prioritize its resources in determining which programs will be reduced to achieve the additional $2.5 million savings."
Matteis said farm organizations have worked with CDFA to focus on the department's "core mission," which he defined as protecting farmers, ranchers, consumers and the environment from invasive plant and animal pests and diseases.
The May revise also included what the administration called a reform package to change the process of creating timber harvest plans. The goal, the proposal said, is to shorten and streamline permit processing times for timber harvest plans, while extending the effective date of the plans.
Current timber harvest plans remain effective for three years, with two extensions of one year each. The proposal would extend the plans to five years, with one two-year extension.
To support regulatory activities for timber harvest plan review, the administration proposed a "lumber assessment" that it said would be applied "to retail sales of certain wood products sold in California." The administration said the assessment would provide a long-term funding stream for regulatory agencies, provide opportunities for forest restoration and "increase timber production."
The governor's revised budget proposal now goes to the Legislature, which will work with the administration to craft a final state budget.
In announcing his revised budget plan, Gov. Brown said further program reductions will be necessary, but vowed to protect education and public safety.
"I don't like making additional cuts, and I recognize the impact they have on Californians," Brown said.
The governor said if his tax initiative fails to pass in November, $6 billion in additional cuts would go into effect on Jan. 1. The measure would enact temporary income tax increases on high-income earners, raising income taxes by up to 3 percent on the wealthiest Californians for seven years, and would also increase the state sales tax by one quarter of 1 percent for four years.
"We can't balance the budget with cuts alone," Brown said. "That would just further undermine our public schools. The budget I am proposing will boost funding for education, protect public safety and prevent an even deeper round of trigger cuts."
Brown said the state and the nation have been living beyond their means and "there has to be a day of reckoning. This is the day."
(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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