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Why I Voted NO on Sacramento’s Cynically Partisan 2021 State Budget
by Assemblymember Steven Choi, Ph.D.
Sacramento’s one-party budget process is broken, and we need bipartisan ideas to fix it. California is home to nearly 40 million people, representing the most diverse state in the nation; however, our state budget process is entirely one-sided—only allowing input from one political party. As we recover and rebuild from a devastating pandemic, Californians expect better from our state government, which is why I voted NO on the shameful partisan budget deal pushed through Sacramento this year.
In order to comply with the constitutionally-required June 15 deadline, the California Legislature rushed an empty framework of a budget in AB 129, which outlined the most spending in state history at $267 billion. Although this budget outlined spending on a number of supportable issues such as increasing funding for TK-12 and community colleges, funding for youth mental and behavior health programs, additional flood management and groundwater sustainability, in additional to increasing the CalCompetes Tax Credit—unfortunately the devil was truly in the details, which had yet to be written. For these reasons, I had to oppose this initial empty framework of a budget, AB 129.
Nearly two weeks after the deadline to pass a state budget, the ruling party decided to offer details to this budget framework with SB 129. Unfortunately, all the details provided in SB 129 were developed entirely behind closed-doors without any opportunity for input from the other party. However, this did not stop my Republican colleagues and myself from identifying six commonsense improvements we could offer to SB 129 to make it work better for all Californians:
- Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Debt. Appropriate $15 billion of federal ARPA funds to pay down the UI debt. This payment would have benefited California employers, employees, and the State General Fund.
- Replenish the Rainy Day Fund. Transfer $7.8 billion from the General Fund to the Rainy Day Fund, which was withdrawn to mitigate the impacts of a recession that never materialized.
- Wildfire Prevention. Establish an ongoing state commitment to preventing wildfire by continuously appropriating $200 million per year from Cap-and-Trade funding for forest health and wildfire prevention projects.
- Water Storage. Appropriate $1 billion General Fund to the Department of Water Resources for projects that increase water storage.
- Expand Learning Time. Provide expanded learning time funding to all Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to serve students in all grades, including nonclassroom-based charter schools and state special schools, which serve deaf and blind students.
- One-Year Gas Tax Holiday. Suspend for the 2021-22 fiscal year taxes on motor vehicle fuel and backfills programs with equivalent General Fund revenues, including monthly apportionments to cities, counties, and cities and counties.
My Republican colleagues and I offered each of these improvements in the form of an amendment during the Assembly Floor discussion—however, each amendment was immediately killed by the ruling party through a procedural motions without a vote by the elected members of the body.
This is not how we solve our state’s complex problems—by shutting out ideas simply because they do not come from your own party. We need bipartisan solutions to solve our problems, and this year’s budget missed six commonsense opportunities to improve the budget for all Californians. For these reasons I had to vote NO on this one-sided partisan state budget deal.
Assemblyman Steven Choi, Ph.D. serves the 68th District in the California Legislature, which includes Lake Forest, Irvine, Orange, North Tustin, Tustin, and Villa Park.