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Guest Editorial: Balanced budgets: a good habit to have

By Sen. Toni G. Atkins 

This is beginning to be a habit – a good one for the people of California: For the seventh year in a row, the Legislature on June 15 passed a state budget that is balanced and forwarded to the governor on time. The 2017-18 budget is strong, prudent and progressive. As in recent years, it saves more money for a rainy day and at the same time invests in programs that will help our residents succeed. I was proud to vote for it.

When I was Speaker of the Assembly, I fought hard for the creation of a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to supplement a federal EITC, which is a proven way to combat poverty. The state EITC was created as part of the budget in 2015, and last year it helped 385,000 working Californians with tax refunds worth an average of $519.

The just-passed budget expands the state EITC, increasing the eligibility ceiling from roughly $14,000 to approximately $22,000 and adding self-employed people to the program. Tens of thousands of San Diego County workers will be newly eligible.

There had been some talk of eliminating the Middle Class Scholarship, but the new budget preserves the program, meaning our families will continue to receive help in sending their kids to college.

We’re continuing to invest in education. The new budget increases K-12 funding by $3.1 billion over last year, including $1 billion more than what was proposed by the governor in January. Never before has California invested more money per student than it’s investing now.

Thanks to the voters who last year passed Proposition 56 to raise the cigarette tax, California is able to allocate more than half a billion dollars to enhance access to health care. Specifically, $465 million will go toward raising reimbursement rates for doctors and dentists who accept Medi-Cal patients, and $50 million will raise Medi-Cal rates for Planned Parenthood providers. Raising rates will only increase chances that providers will take part in in Medi-Cal, which means access to care grows.

More families will be eligible for childcare assistance, as we were able to spend $25 million on increasing the income eligibility limit. Now, those whose pay has gone up because of the increase to the minimum wage will still be eligible for help. Also, another $31 million will help our foster families who have urgent need for childcare services.

Due to the federal government stepping up immigration enforcement, we’ve allocated $30 million to the OneCalifornia program to help residents who are facing deportation. We want to make sure that immigrants who have become important parts of our communities and our economy are treated fairly, and we want to do as much as we can to keep families together.

Meanwhile, this budget allocates $2.8 billion toward repairing our state highways and local roads. Residents will begin to see real results for the contributions they are making. Our roads will become safer, and we’ll begin to pay less for repairs to our cars.

We were able to do all of this while still contributing to our state’s reserves. This budget adds $1.4 billion to our Rainy Day Fund, bringing the total to $8.5 billion since it was created just three years ago. It is scheduled to grow to more than $12 billion by fiscal year 2020-21. When you include our regular reserves, we now have $9.9 billion socked away.

Progressive and prudent. Since the end of the Great Recession, California has made tremendous investments in its residents and its programs while also guarding against the next downturn. Our state is heading in the right direction.

—Toni G. Atkins represents District 39 in the California Senate. Reach her through her website at sd39.senate.ca.gov.

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