The California legislature is now deep in the throes of the state budget process, with the combined senate and assembly conference committee working to reconcile the differences between the legislative budgets and the governor’s. Decisions happen in a rush of committee meetings and votes: both houses need to approve the budget by June 15 and the final budget act and governor’s signature are required by the end of the month.
Berkeley’s own legislators, State Senator Loni Hancock and State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, are both among their chamber’s four members of the conference committee. So, although no one expects Hancock and Skinner to think about their city’s needs over the state’s, Berkeley represents one-fourth of the decision-making power for this year’s budget.
In some ways, Hancock’s and Skinner’s voices are even more powerful, because the three Democrats on each of the committees will need to agree for proposals to move forward (the lone Republican on each committee will be a more likely dissenting voice).
Increased state revenues, from both Proposition 30’s tax hikes and an improved economic climate, make this year’s budget decisions far less contentious than recent years when cuts to balance the budget dominated debate.
“For both Senator Hancock and myself, when we’re in roles like this, we’re very much looking out for the interests of the state as a whole,” Skinner said. “This kind of role is much less a district specific role. The great news is that the differences between the governor’s proposal and the legislators’ is the smallest in years.”
Skinner said the previous time she was on the budget conference committee, briefing documents on each of the many individual issues was 150-200 pages long, because of the wide differences between the legislature and the governor. Now, she said, there were only 50-75 pages on each.
Hancock echoed Skinner’s optimism about this year’s process.
“I am grateful that we are not facing the budget crises that we have in previous years,” Hancock said. “However, many programs that people depend on were cut to the bone and have not had their funding restored. People are still suffering from those drastic cutbacks. We must strengthen our social safety net, restore our investment in schools and universities, work to mitigate catastrophic climate change and insure that those in need are not forgotten or forsaken. The Budget Conference Committee is a great opportunity to keep these issues front and center in public debate.”
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