"Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential. This is the main thing; in the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless." (Pope Francis in a Letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron for the G8 Meeting)
Reflecting improved fiscal health in California and the nation, Governor Jerry Brown released his FY 2014-15 Budget proposal this week. A projected $5.6 billion surplus is a far cry from the massive deficits that have plagued the state since the fiscal meltdown of 2008.
While taking steps to reduce the “wall of debt,” Governor Brown announced some incremental increases to poverty reduction programs, increased spending for education as mandated by voter-approved Prop 98 and promoted efforts to stabilize California’s boom and boost budgeting addiction.
“The Governor is to be recognized and supported for his fiscally responsible approach to budgeting and for his modest improvements in programs that strive to help people rise out of poverty,” said Edward “Ned” Dolejsi, Executive Director of the California Catholic Conference. “Unfortunately, those small increases do not even come close to repairing the massive cuts made during the Great Recession.
“The California Catholic Conference will work with the Governor and the Legislature during the next few months to address some of these issues in a manner that will allow all Californians ‘to live in dignity and freedom.’ Pope Francis has eloquently – and repeatedly - set that as a minimum economic standard for any fiscal policy,” said Dolejsi.
Some of those programs include CalWORKs, in-home health care providers, tax incentives to advance educational opportunities and naturalization services.
Fiscal responsibility also means advocating for changes to programs that diminish human life and dignity such as abortion funding (which is always buried deep in arcane budget documents.)
The release of the Governor’s proposal is only the start of a process that will culminate in the passage of a budget in the Spring. Lawmakers and others generally do not get serious about fiscal negotiations until the Department of Finance releases its “May Revise,” an accounting of actual revenues and expenses heading into the month of May, which allow them to discuss the budget with more accurate numbers.
As with abortion funding, many policies are buried deep within accounting tables and charts and deciphering them can take time.
For instance, as part of his plan to help the state recover from crippling deficits, the Governor passed on many responsibilities to counties. Best know is the prison realignment proposal to deal with overcrowding but “realignment” also includes medical care for the homeless, CalWORKs responsibilities, police and fire protection, mental health and other programs.
Whether the Governor’s funding of this reflects sufficient resource allocation is still being investigated by the counties and other advocates.
Of course, others have already made statements establishing their political position on the budget. Outgoing Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) spoke of the need for fiscal accountability last month. (He will run for State Controller after he is termed out.) Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) stressed the need to repay debt. And Senate President Darryl Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who is also termed out this year, wants to divide the pot evenly – one third each to debt reduction, poverty programs and a rainy day fund.
Democrats hold a supermajority in both the California Senate and Assembly which enable them to enact taxes and other measures with virtually no Republican support.
The Governor was successful in encouraging fiscal restraint last year and his current proposal appears to continue that cautious approach. Groups will now begin advocating for which policies and programs should take the highest priority in what is still a modest economic recovery.
Additional Resources for Evaluating the Budget
- Economic Justice for All: A Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teach and the U.S. Economy
- In Search of the Common Good: A Moral Framework for Addressing California's Budget Crisis by the California Catholic Conference
- Pope Francis and Economic Inequality: Five Essential Quotes by Bishop Robert McElroy
- Themes of Catholic Social Teaching