What We’re Watching For in the May Revision and Beyond

Governor Brown is set to release the May Revision of his proposed 2013-14 budget tomorrow, kicking off the sprint to a final budget agreement in June. The CBP will provide a series of analyses of the revision, including a same-day statement, a brief analysis of major changes and important new proposals — and the issues they raise — and a more in-depth scan in the days that follow. You can find all the latest updates and analyses here at California Budget Bites.

The following are five issues that we’ll be watching for in the Governor’s May Revision and the budget deliberations that follow in the coming weeks:

1.   Education Finance Reform

The issue: The Governor’s proposed Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) seeks to make the state’s system of school finance more equitable by providing additional revenue to school districts with disadvantaged students, a topic the CBP recently examined in its chartbook on the LCFF. Under the Governor’s proposal, each school district would receive a base grant per student and — in addition — a supplemental grant based on the unduplicated number of English learners or students from low-income families as well as a concentration grant for the share of these students above 50 percent of district enrollment.

We’re watching for: potential changes to the mix of LCFF grants as well as any new accountability provisions. Will the May Revision preserve the additional dollars allocated for disadvantaged students? If the LCFF concentration grants are reduced or eliminated, will the freed-up dollars be used to provide larger supplemental grants? The May Revision may also include stronger accountability provisions in terms of addressing district spending of LCFF dollars. Our view is that policymakers should preserve additional dollars the LCFF would allocate for disadvantaged students, including concentration grants, and that school districts should be required to use these dollars to directly benefit the students for whom they are intended.

2.    Medi-Cal Expansion

The issue: As part of federal health care reform, the Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget calls for expanding Medi-Cal — the state’s Medicaid program — to cover low-income adults who currently are not eligible. Our recent Medi-Cal chartbook provides an in-depth look at the program and the issues raised by the expansion. In January, the Governor presented two approaches to expansion — a county-based approach and a state-based approach — while also linking the expansion to his proposal to “capture” some funding that counties now use to provide health care to low-income, uninsured Californians. The Governor’s proposal also assumes a 10 percent cut in payments for Medi-Cal providers that was approved by state policymakers in 2011 and is currently pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

We’re watching for: a call for a state-led expansion that leaves existing funding with counties, for now, and that reconsiders the cuts to provider payments. Counties and health care advocates are nearly unanimous in their push for a state-led expansion. Also, any savings that counties do realize, at least in the near term, should be prioritized for local health services given that millions of Californians will remain uninsured even after health care reform is fully implemented and will turn to the counties for care. Lastly, amid concerns that payment cuts on the eve of the Medi-Cal expansion could drive providers from the program at the very time when provider participation needs to increase, we’ll be watching for a call to repeal those cuts.

3.    State Revenue Projections

The issue: Ten months through the current fiscal year, the State Controller’s Office reports that total revenue is running ahead of the Governor’s January projections by $4.6 billion. The state’s revenue collections are prompting speculation about increased revenue forecasts for the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal year.

We’re watching for: updated economic and revenue forecasts. If there is a projected increase in General Fund revenues compared to January projections, what will the revised level of the Proposition 98 minimum school funding guarantee be, and how will the May Revision propose to use additional Proposition 98 funding? Options would include using the dollars to pay back money borrowed from K-12 schools, providing additional funding to implement the Local Control Funding Formula, and/or providing resources for other one-time or ongoing education priorities. How much of this higher-than-anticipated revenue is left over beyond the Proposition 98 minimum funding level? And how is that revenue allocated? Calls for paying down budgetary debt and/or building up the state’s reserves are likely to be among the options considered. But, with many Californians still hurting in the wake of the Great Recession, a balanced approach would prioritize providing additional resources for critical programs such as child care and state preschool, CalWORKs, and adult dental coverage.

4.    Pay-Down of California’s Budgetary Debt

The issue: The Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget calls for paying down $4.2 billion in budgetary debt as part of a plan to reduce this debt from $27.8 billion in 2012-13 to $4.3 billion by 2016-17. “Budgetary debt” includes money borrowed from K-12 schools, unpaid costs to local governments, and loans from state special funds.

We’re watching for: any changes to the Governor’s proposed pay-down. If the May Revision does project higher revenue collections, increasing the pay-down in 2013-14 could be part of proposals for allocating these additional revenues. The Governor and the Legislature may also choose to adopt a more gradual repayment schedule in order to free up funds to support other budget priorities.

5.    Enterprise Zone Reform

The issue: The Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget includes a set of regulatory changes to the state’s Enterprise Zone (EZ) Program, which provides a variety of tax credits intended to encourage businesses to locate in economically distressed geographic areas. While the intent of the program is to promote business development and job creation in targeted areas, research shows that the program fails to achieve its goals and places an increasing strain on the state budget — $720 million in 2010, projected to rise to $1 billion by 2015-16.

We’re watching for: any changes to proposals to restructure the EZ Program. Proposals that are currently under consideration include the Governor’s proposed regulatory reforms as well as a number of legislative proposals that seek to restructure the program. Given that lawmakers are very unlikely to eliminate the program, we think that it should be restructured to better target the jobs and business development intended, boost accountability and evaluation of program effectiveness, and reduce the strain on the state budget.

— Chris Hoene