When I first took office in 2010, the state was facing a budget deficit of more than $26 billion. Last week, the Legislature met its constitutional deadline and approved the 2015-16 state budget, which shows we have come a long way since then. Over the past four years, I have worked with my legislative colleagues and the governor to make the tough decisions on how to get our budget back on track. The Legislature’s constant desire to increase spending prior to the Great Recession forced us to make painful cuts to services Californians rely on. Now, thanks to California’s resilient economy, the state is back on track financially.
However, we must do more to rein in our spending and ensure that our tax dollars are being spent wisely. Alongside jobs, the economy, health and the drought, I believe that protecting and improving California’s education system should remain one of our top priorities, especially in light of the money taken out of classrooms over the past several years. I am pleased to see that the budget includes an increase of almost $14 billion for education for this coming fiscal year, totaling over $68 billion in state and local funding to be spent on K-12, preschool and community colleges. In addition, it provides for $216 million in new funding for the CSU system, with an assumption that tuition will not increase above the current level over the next two years.
With the implementation of voter-approved Proposition 2 Rainy Day Fund, 1.5 percent of general-fund revenue will be set aside to be saved for future recessions. Because of the state’s debt and many unfunded liabilities, for the first 15 years, 50 percent of these funds will go toward paying down our structural deficit. After the first 15 years, 100 percent of the fund will be saved. Proposition 2 requires that $1.9 billion be used to pay outstanding debt with the other half ($1.9 billion) going to the fund to be saved. This is $1.2 billion more than what had been expected to be put aside for debt repayment or saved in January.
Slowly but surely, the state is climbing out from under budgetary debts accumulated over the past decade and a half. While this is all great news, we must ensure that we are careful with our spending. Historically, times of surplus are often followed by times of recession.