June 21, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy
CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
Budget and Election Watch
This week, we’ll wrap up the primary election, and focus on what to watch in November. But we begin with the state budget, which was approved by lawmakers last week after quick agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown.
The budget is another big win for Brown, who won support from Democrats to boost budget reserves by billions above the constitutionally guaranteed minimum. Brown did offer more money for some legislative Democratic priorities like child care, and agreed to lift the cap on welfare grants for large families – a victory for legislative Democrats.
But even in the child care money, there was victory for Brown. While the governor agreed to increase funding for child care by $100 million, the money will not expand the number of subsidies or slots available to families. Instead, the money will simply help the state cover the cost of the increasing minimum wage.
Many child care workers make low wages, and with the minimum wage set to increase to $15 per hour over the next several years, the current state subsidy levels had to be increased simply to cover the existing number of child care slots that are subsidized by the state. The move shows just one of the ways in which the wage hike directly impacts the state budget.
Of course, proponents of the higher wage argue that now these workers are earning a better wage, they will be less dependent on state resources like food stamps and welfare, allowing the state to save money on the backend.
There may be something to that. Just look at health care.
Counties bear the responsibility for treating those without health insurance, and they receive some money from the state to help cover those costs. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and the state expansion of Medicaid coverage to single adults and undocumented children, the number of uninsured has dropped significantly, as have county costs for treating uninsured patients.
Those savings went to the state, creating less spending pressure on the state general fund. This year, lawmakers used those “savings” to cover the costs of the family welfare grants in this year’s budget.
The 2016-2017 budget also contains $100 million to address California’s critical primary care workforce shortage. With $33 million each year for three years to increase funding for the Song-Brown Program, which supports primary care residency programs in medically underserved areas, this represents one of the biggest investments in the primary care workforce that the state has ever undertaken.
Another big issue was affordable housing. Brown set aside $400 million for new affordable housing projects, but the cash is contingent upon lawmakers coming to agreement on streamlining regulations to bring new housing online. That’s easier said than done.
Local governments oppose weakening those regulations, as do many labor unions, who use environmental lawsuits as a way to leverage project-labor agreements for their workers. The fight will be one to watch in August during the flurry of activity at the end of the legislative session.
The June election results show the continuing impact of the state’s new top-two primary rules. California will have its first-ever statewide contest between two members of the same party, as Democrats Loretta Sanchez and Kamala Harris advance to the November runoff in the race to replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate.
In the state Senate, five of the 20 seats up for grabs will feature contests between two Democrats. In the Assembly, there are ten more same-party runoffs – eight of those contests are between Democrats, and two feature Republicans going head-to-head.
The other big take away from Election Night was the number of legislative incumbents in trouble. On the Democratic side, incumbent Patty Lopez seems almost sure to lose a rematch with former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra. And, Miguel Santiago looks vulnerable in his run-off with fellow Democrat Sandra Mendoza. But in both cases, the incumbents are running against other Democrats, and partisan control is not at stake.
That isn’t the case among Republicans. There are seven Republican incumbents who received 51 percent or less of the primary vote, and are facing strong challenges from Democrats. In three of those races, freshman Republicans are running against the former incumbents they beat in 2014.
The fate of these GOP incumbents may rest with Donald Trump. It’s true that primary turnout is typically more Republican than the general election electorate. That may be mitigated somewhat this year because there was a contested Democratic presidential primary that brought more liberal voters to the polls, while the GOP presidential contest was already settled.
But the Trump effect could loom large in legislative races this fall. Trump’s presence on the ballot is likely to boost Democratic turnout, particularly among Latino voters who feel targeted by the New York billionaire. In addition, many mainstream Republicans may be inclined to skip the election altogether, seeing neither Trump nor Clinton as a viable presidential alternative.
California may be a good example of how a Trump-induced tsunami could have implications around the country – even in states where the outcome of the presidential contest is not in question.