Commentary

My Turn: State budget short-changes rural counties

The majority party recently enacted the largest budget in California state history. I truly hoped leadership would craft a fiscally prudent measure, prioritizing money for rural California.

Unfortunately that did not happen. Once again, the urban agenda wins, ignoring the critical issues affecting my rural district. Sacramento has increased spending significantly and continues to bolster a government unable to address a number of crucial problems our state is facing. Furthermore, the majority party has used the budget process to force through several non-fiscal policies without the public’s ability to provide comment.

Unfortunately these policies are not for the betterment of California. Many folks from the rural corners of our state have tremendous concerns that should be addressed.

One of which is tree mortality.

While rural communities will bear the brunt of this critical issue, the problem as a whole will have a lasting effect on our entire state until we find a solution.

There are approximately 102 million dead and dying trees in California, which is an unparalleled disaster facing our forests. Exacerbated by the drought and significant rainfall from last winter, these dead trees littering the forest floor provide the perfect kindling for  catastrophic wildfire — endangering life and property.   While it seems difficult to imagine ignoring this frightening reality facing our state, those in charge of funding such matters have seemed to turn a blind eye.

While the budget did include $10 million to Cal Fire for protecting Californians and our precious resources, this will not go far enough. Two million dollars were also set aside for the Office of Emergency Services for wildfire aid. Sadly this is only a drop in the multi-billion dollar taxpayer funded budget. In Sacramento majority party lawmakers are playing with fire if they truly believe $12 million is the most this budget can provide for rural parts of California, and everyone else who feels the effects of summer wildfires, and the water lost to extinguish them. We will continue to lose our precious forests, and at this rate, lose much of the beautiful natural resources that make California great for current and future generations.

In addition to a lack of funding for tree mortality, the 2017-18 budget fails to provide funding for Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in our schools. Cuts to these programs make it much more difficult for students to continue their education, attain particular skill sets and land a good job. As someone who benefitted greatly from my time participating in Future Farmers of America, I can honestly ask: How can we expect the youth to lead if we do not provide the tools for success? These programs are crucial in helping Californians improve their lives; and cutting off funding will only hurt our communities.

Unfortunately budget cuts to education programs in my district do not end with CTE. Next year’s budget includes revisions to the District of Choice (DOC) program, reducing reimbursement for basic-aid districts from 70 percent to 25 percent. My district has seven basic-aid DOC schools. These cuts alone equate to losses a little under a hundred thousand dollars. This funding is imperative to rural communities, where residents travel long distances to work, amongst other daily needs.

Additional concerns with a lack of funding include the statewide problem of finding — and keeping — qualified teachers in our schools. Currently the demand for teachers exceeds our supply by more than 150 percent. We should be crafting solutions to keep and attract educators, not exacerbate the shortage.

Finally, a California budget would not be complete without raising taxes. In April Sacramento’s leaders strong-armed a deal for the largest gas tax in California history. While regressive tax hikes are bad enough, this budget ensures that 30 percent of these funds, raised by hard working Californians, will be diverted from fixing roads and transportation infrastructure, instead going to unrelated projects.

Overall the increase in spending provided by this budget does not translate to a better life for rural Californians. This year has offered Californians a lengthy list of broken promises and incomplete pieces of legislation that will ultimately leave our communities in worse shape. Californians deserve better from our multi-billion dollar state budget, which is only possible with their hard-earned money. I will continue to fight for you, my constituents, and work to educate Sacramento on the importance of our communities and way of life.

Lifelong rancher Frank Bigelow represents the 5th Assembly District, which encompasses El Dorado, Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Placer and Tuolumne counties and includes Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park.

Special to Village Life

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