CMA Capitol Insight: Nov. 24, 2015

November 25, 2015
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.

Ripples across the pond

The terrorist attacks in Paris have reverberated through the political world, changing the tenor and tone of the American presidential contest and setting off a debate in statehouses around the country about housing Syrian refugees. Gov. Jerry Brown has said he would like to see California maintain its “traditional role as a place of asylum,” breaking with other governors who have warned that admitting Syrian refugees could potentially undermine American security.

President Barack Obama said he would like to see the U.S. accept as many as 10,000 Syrian war refugees over the course of the next year. But in the wake of this month’s attacks, and revelations that at least one of the attackers crossed into Europe posing as a Syrian refugee, other governors have made clear their states would not welcome asylum seekers.

“I intend to work closely with the President so that he can both uphold America’s traditional role as a place of asylum, but also ensure that anyone seeking refuge in America is fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way,” Brown told the Sacramento Bee. “You can be sure that we will do everything in our power to protect the people of our state.”

The political attacks also changed the optics around the upcoming global climate summit in Paris next month, which has been in many ways the magnetic pole of the Brown administration in 2015. Brown, of course, has adopted the climate cause as his own, and has spent much of his governorship positioning California as a global leader on climate policy. However, he did not achieve all of his legislative goals this year, suffering a stinging rebuke at the hands of the oil industry, which beat back a Brown-supported effort to pass new state limits on future petroleum use.

Brown is taking a large entourage to Paris, and as he did at the Vatican earlier this year, taking his shot at grabbing the global microphone to advocate for new global environmental protections. But in the immediate wake of the Paris attack, there was some question as to whether the global summit would happen at all.

The meeting is still on, and French President François Hollande has vowed to use the summit as an opportunity for the world to show global solidarity with Paris. Brown has also reaffirmed his intention to attend, saying as long as the meeting was on, he was going to be there.

But in the wake of the shootings earlier this month, it now means something just a little different to have our governor in Paris. There is an added dimension of symbolism and import, and a new opportunity for Brown to bring his philosophical skills to the global stage. We’re counting on at least a little bit of news, or at least colorful reportage, from the Californians in the press corps who will be following the governor through France.

When he returns, Brown and his team will be focused on the state budget, which is expected to be robust, with revenues more than $3.6 billion higher than the governor projected last summer.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) came out with its 2016-17 budget-year estimate, with a projected surplus of as much as $11.5 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.

But, this being California, after all, the LAO also offered several alternative economic scenarios in which the state hits a recession in FY 2017-2018, which would cause revenues to fall by more than $60 billion. So there’s that.

The current state budget allocates roughly $31.6 billion to Health and Human Services spending, according to the LAO report. That number is expected to climb more than $2 billion in the net budget year. Of course, those predictions are based on current law, with no expansion of benefits, eligibility or Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. If the past is any indication, those things seem to be a fair assumption about Brown’s January budget, but he will undoubtedly face pressures from Democrats and others who want the state to do more.

Already, Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen has joined Speaker Toni Atkins in calling for more spending on services for the developmentally disabled. And health care, which takes up the largest sector of the state budget outside of education, will be a source of multiple contentious political fights in the months to come.


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