Tag Archives: mac taylor

LAO Says More Money Is Coming

LAO thinks more cash is coming than  Gov. Brown

by Brian Leubitz

In his negotiations with the Legislature, perhaps Gov. Brown would prefer to bargain over less money and pocket any extra revenues that fall into the general fund over the course of the fiscal year. But alas, the LAO thinks that the bigger sum should be in discussion:

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor projected state revenues Friday that are $3.2 billion higher than those projected by Gov. Jerry Brown this week in his revised budget proposal.

The difference translates into $400 million for the current fiscal year and $2.8 billion for the year that begins in July. The projection sets up a potential battle between Brown and fellow Democrats in the Legislature. who want to spend more than he proposes.

Both Brown and Taylor urge fiscal restraint, however, because revenue projections are largely dependent upon economic factors ranging from employment to housing prices. Both also agree that the bulk of the money will go to schools under state law.(SacBee)

Taylor is generally in favor of taking the cautious approach, so that’s no surprise. But acknowledging the extra cash will surely mean that the fight is more intense from legislators that are looking to restore funding for some of the state’s programs. Social services, the judiciary, higher education and other interests are competing with the Prop 98 K-14 funding guarantee, and the fight will be typically intense. This LAO report will only add intensity.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor Says Medicaid Expansion A Net Good for California

Several Republican governors have already rejected medicaid expansion

by Brian Leubitz

There was never any real whiff of news that Governor Brown would consider opposing the federally supported medicaid expansion, but in recent months he has been explicit about that support. Now he has some support from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s office

Legislative analyst Mac Taylor urged lawmakers to adopt an optional Medicaid expansion that features an enhanced cost match from the federal government, meaning Uncle Sam will pick up most of the tab and send billions of dollars flowing into the state.

Taylor says the additional money can be used improve health care in California even though the state will take on additional costs down the road. The report estimated that by taking on new enrollees, the state could be on the hook for between $300 million and $1.3 billion a year starting in 2020.

Gov. Jerry Brown has committed to expanding Medicaid, known as Medi-Cal in California, for people who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $15,400 a year for an individual. The analyst estimated the expansion will bring 1.2 million new enrollees by 2017.(Judy Lin/AP)

The decision to go ahead with the expansion means millions of Californians won’t have to worry what will happen if they get sick. Whether they can afford to have even the most basic preventative care that can head off major illness.

Not to pick on Governor Perry, but his decision to reject the expansion in Texas means that there is little relief on the way for the nation’s highest rate of uninsured. It seems a rough lot for such a big decision in an individual’s life to lie in the hands of a distant governor.

But there it is, and the LAO now says that the basic numbers behind the plan make sense for California. Good for California, not so good for Texas.

Trigger Intrigue

Mac Taylor at the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has made his preliminary assessment of the impact of the federal stimulus on California’s bottom line.  This is important, recall, because if the state can get over $10 billion in such a way that reduces the budget deficit, they would hit a “trigger” that would allow the state to eliminate $1.8 billion in tax increases and restore about $1 billion in really painful cuts to social services, particularly health care for the needy.

Taylor doesn’t think we can get there:

A significant portion of the $31 billion in aid to California will be available to address the state’s budgetary problems. We estimate that, based on the enacted state 2009-10 budget, California can use $10.4 billion in new federal dollars for this purpose over the life of ARRA. Of that amount, $8 billion would be available in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The Director of Finance and State Treasurer will determine their own estimate of the latter amount by April 1 of this year. If the amount is less than $10 billion, then annual state program reductions of nearly $1 billion and revenue increases of about $1.8 billion adopted as part of the 2009-10 budget package will go into effect.

Given the state’s continuing economic struggles, however, it is possible that state revenues (and the Proposition 98 minimum funding level) may continue to fall. In that case, it may be possible to use additional federal education dollars for budgetary relief.

This is an analysis of things as they stand right now, with no further changes from the legislature to qualify the state for more funding.  It is not the final version of things, as Taylor notes, because the legislature could act quickly on a number of fronts to put the state over that $10 billion dollar line.  And the Budget Act provision is written so sloppily that it’s hard to even know what money would be eligible under it.

The Legislature will need to take many actions in the coming months to ensure that the funds are used in ways that meet its priorities and preferences. To assist in this process, we offer the following considerations in making decisions regarding these new federal funds:

• Maximize the Benefit of Federal Funds to the General Fund Budget. In this report, we make specific recommendations about how to help the state’s budgetary situation under different scenarios.

• Act Quickly in a Handful of Cases. In certain instances, the state will need to act rapidly to ensure it receives the maximum amount of relief or to use the funds in the most effective way possible. Addressing a Medi-Cal eligibility issue and providing direction on the use of transportation funds are two such examples.

The Medi-Cal eligibility issue ALONE would make over $11 billion in funding available to the state.  In addition, we know that revenues are going to come up short, which would allow up to $3 billion in education funding to be shifted to budget relief.  Taylor makes a number of recommendations that would allow the state to cross the trigger.

Nevertheless, the headline from the LA Times is “Stimulus Money Might Not Be Enough For California”.  That’s only true if the legislature does nothing.  And so these opening grafs are really kind of misleading.

Reporting from Sacramento — California appears likely to fall short of getting the federal stimulus money it needs to avoid the full tax hikes and spending cuts lawmakers approved last month to settle a contentious 100-day budget stalemate.

A fresh analysis of California’s flagging fiscal situation says the state needs about $2 billion more than Washington is providing. Lawmakers will be unlikely to reduce the personal income tax increase the new budget contains, or to restore some of the money they cut for universities, courts, social services and health care programs.

John Myers at Capitol Notes has a much more nuanced take, and he updated it with the LAO report today.  In the hearings today, Taylor didn’t sound assured of his own analysis.

But the LAO presentation, during this morning’s hearing of the Assembly Budget Committee, certainly didn’t sound definitive when it came to the $8 billion estimate. “This was our best kind of shot at it,” said Taylor […]

But when the question and answer session from legislators wrapped up, it was clear that a feisty debate is brewing as to whether to count more federal stimulus money towards deficit relief… thereby allowing some of the cuts and taxes to be set aside… or let the budget package stand as it is.

“I think taking for granted the $8 billion figure,” said Assemblymember Mike Feuer (D-LA), “is a big mistake.” Feuer went on to say that the Legislature should try to reach the magic $10 billion figure “any way we can,” thus maximizing federal matching dollars that state government has often left unused.

The California Budget Project’s analysis shows that there are plenty of ways to reach that $10 billion, through competitive grants and moving items to offset the budget, without costing the state very much at all and saving the worst budget cuts from being enacted.  There’s no reason not to get creative and do this.

Two other things.  The original trigger was set at $9 billion, until Abel “My Precious Tears” Maldonado wouldn’t sign off unless the gas tax increase was eliminated and lawmakers had to raise the trigger.  So if you want to blame someone for IHSS services being cut (or, if you prefer, raising your taxes), there’s your man.

Second, this will largely be resolved at a public meeting next week between Mike Genest, the finance director for the Governor, and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.  And because the wording is so vague in the Budget Act, that meeting could erupt into chaos:

The actual bill says the two jointly have the responsibility of whether to “trigger off” those budget items. What if they disagree on the analysis? Ummm, well, no one really knows.

Well, at least it’s simple and elegant.

California’s Economic Guardians Plead for Immediate Action, Will Legislative Republicans Listen?

Cross-posted on the California Majority Report.

Yesterday, the California Assembly and Senate held a rare joint legislative session to hear from California’s economic experts on the state of California’s economy. Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Controller John Chiang, Department of Finance Director Mike Genest, and Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor gave a remarkably uniform presentation that urged immediate action and politically tough compromise.

“If you act now, the cash situation is manageable, unless it gets worse, and I’ve already said it will,” Genest explained with a slight slip of the tongue that was perhaps even more accurate than intended.

“The faster you act the easier it will be for you to fix your problem,” Taylor added.

Over the next two years, current estimates project that California faces a $28 billion budget hole, and all sides are willing to acknowledge that’s likely an underestimate. Moreover, the Legislative Analyst’s Office anticipates huge operating deficits above $20 billion per year through 2014. Lobbying in Washington, D.C. will hopefully reduce our federal tax dollar imbalance, but the complete solution requires bold action in Sacramento as well.

There’s more over the flip…

Failure to act soon, Treasurer Lockyer warned, would force the state to stop construction on a number of infrastructure projects, to the tune of $660 million per month. The harm to the private businesses and employees expecting highway projects would clearly create a domino effect disruptive to the state’s economy. Projects at risk cross Republican and Democratic districts, including a $239 million bridge replacement on Interstate 5 in Shasta County, a $345 million tunnel project on Highway 24 in Alameda County, a $218 million HOV lane on I-5 in LA County, and a $65 million eastbound lane project on Highway 91 in Orange County.

The loss of jobs and tax revenues that would result would be accompanied by an increased reliance on social services, and this is obviously a problem far beyond highway budgeting.

Without a real budget, the LAO thinks it will be impossible to convince lenders to provide the state with stimulus and infrastructure bonds, which remain one of the more attractive options left to the legislature.

And Genest gave another reason to act fast. As time wears on, the options available to the state diminish with one glaring exception: Proposition 98 education funding. The legislature has the authority to cut off Prop 98 guarantees at any time, whereas most cuts and revenue solutions rely on early action to reap substantive reward this year.

“Delayed action points the gun very directly at schools,” Genest emphasized.

Controller Chiang echoed Genest’s concerns. While strong opinions exist on both sides of the aisle on cuts and tax increases, to do nothing is worse than making hard sacrifices.

But the bluntest presentation came from Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who minced metaphors but not words. Calling the budget that cleared the legislature in September a “zombie budget … but no sleeping beauty,” Lockyer urged the legislators present to transcend the interests they represent and the ideologies they espouse. “Robotic advocacy misses the unique role of legislators,” he told them. “Stop relying on the tooth fairy and other fantasies.”

What’s needed in Sacramento more than a tooth fairy is a two-thirds fairy. To raise taxes, close tax loopholes, and pass budgets requires two-thirds approval, in essence giving Republicans in both legislative houses veto power over most solutions provided they remain unified. Legislative Democrats have acknowledged that additional cuts will be required, though legislative leadership is understandably getting push back from some of the legislature’s more progressive members. Nevertheless, Democrats have shown in the past that they can largely fall in line with leaderships’ recommendations on budgetary matters. The elephant in the room, as has been the case for a number of years, is whether enough Republicans will agree to revenue solutions that they know will be opposed by conservative activists.

At least publicly, legislative Republicans have yet to back away from their no tax pledge, and if they didn’t get the message after this presentation, then we are in for a world of hurt.  

“The good news is, on the Assembly side, we only need three votes,” said Speaker Bass at a press conference preceding the session. And indeed, there may be cracks in the Republican armor.

While Senate Minority Leader Dave Cogdill other Republicans bloviated forever with rhetorical questions and right wing red meat designed for the cameras, at least two Republicans seemed genuinely open to learning from the exercise. Assemblymember Danny Gilmore, who represents the only district in the state where a Republican picked up a Democratic seat, noted his district’s high levels of unemployment and asked the presenters how important job creation was to solving California’s economic crisis. Assemblymember Kevin Jeffries asked the experts which tax increases will harm California’s economy and which will help, suggesting he at least recognizes that some taxes might be helpful.

Perhaps I’m reading the tea leaves too much here, but until proven otherwise, I will hold out hope that Gilmore and Jeffries are willing to take a more pragmatic approach to solving our economic crisis than most of their colleagues. As the state’s economic experts explained, to rely solely on cuts or solely on tax increases would increase unemployment in the state, whereas infrastructure bonds and stimulus offer opportunities to create jobs.

And as if on cue, the Commission for Economic Development, chaired by Lt. Governor John Garamendi, held their quarterly meeting at the Capitol this morning focused on the needs of California’s aerospace, agriculture, biotechnology, goods movement, and tourism and entertainment sectors. Not surprisingly, education, career training, and increased collaboration between businesses and schools were among the top priorities for all involved. As the California Taxpayers Association understood when they endorsed a modest sales tax increase a few months back, California needs an educated workforce to remain competitive in our cash cow high-tech, entertainment, and finance industries.

“The California Commission for Economic Development is intensely concerned about the California economy and understands that the ultimate solution to the budget crisis depends on a very healthy and growing economy,” Lt. Governor Garamendi explained. “To accomplish that, today we heard recommendations from six different industries on how they can advance the interests of their industry. The Commission will transmit all of those recommendations to the legislature and the Governor for immediate consideration.”

Added Democratic Assemblymember Lori Saldana, who sits on the Commission: “Here we have reports on the needs of a skilled workforce, and yet where are we talking about cutting? Education and infrastructure. We clearly need the people who were in this room to communicate more forcefully in this discussion.”

The partisan budget games, played primarily by legislative Republicans, need to stop. Legislative Democrats are willing to swallow politically risky cuts harming key constituencies to see our financial footing strengthened. Democrats will receive severe flack for their efforts, on this blog and elsewhere, as the weeks and months progress. To borrow Treasurer Lockyer’s terminology, at least one party in Sacramento is willing to transcend “robotic advocacy.”

Meanwhile, a Republican legislator at the hearing spoke fondly of a Toyota plant recently built in Mississippi to argue that California’s tax climate is unfriendly to businesses. We can quibble with specific tax rates or specific tax incentives, but one thing we should all agree on is this: California is not Mississippi, and we don’t want it to be. To allow a budget that relies excessively on cuts to our education and social services infrastructure would fundamentally alter the character of California and destroy the institutions that have made California a hub for high-end jobs over the years.  

The ball is now in the legislative Republicans’ court. They can do their part to sink our economy, or they can stand up to the Grover Norquists of the world and agree to a compromise. Democrats are willing to buck pressure from the key interest groups that form the Democratic donor base. Can Republicans say the same?