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Commentary: The new year and legislative priorities

Since the gavel struck on the evening of Aug. 31, marking the official end of the 2017-18 legislative session, there have been significant changes to our state’s leadership. As the result of the November election, we have a handful of new assembly members and state senators, new commissioners and directors who will take the helm of some of our most influential agencies and departments, and of course, a new executive administration in Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. With new leadership, there always come fresh ideas, a reassessment of priorities and new goalposts set for the direction our state will take. And the work has already begun. As of earlier this month, both leadership and the people of our state have made clear what their visions for a better California will be. I’d like to take a moment to fill you in on what we could expect those next big priorities to be.

As members were being sworn in to the state Assembly on Dec. 3, the Assembly Budget Committee, under the leadership of Chair Phil Ting, put forward a presentation serving as a first outline for fiscal priorities. The overall theme of the committee’s proposal is “Funding Progress while Protecting Tomorrow.” Last year, we were able to successfully meet our goals of increased fiscal responsibility by filling our “rainy day” fund years ahead of schedule. The proposal asks that the new administration and the Legislature consider increasing our reserves to 20% of operation expenses, so we can be prepared for a mild to moderate recession in the coming years.

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This approach, of seeking progress while holding on to fiscal prudence, is one I will always support. Over the next few months, as crowds of people and ideas begin again to flood the halls of the capitol and we all look at our next steps, it is imperative that we do so with sustainability and long-term health in mind. The Ting proposal suggests doing that by focusing on one-time investments, keeping our promises in the form of pensions and other liabilities, and increasing governmental efficiency. Within that, is a proposal to appropriate $200 million for forest management, improve the 911 system, fund emergency response operations, and to help the recovery efforts in communities devastated by the recent fires.

The proposal also takes a look at what we can put our resources toward that will give us a real return on investment. This includes programs to expand affordable housing and prevent homelessness, continuing to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families, and expanding early education and after school programs.

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I think we are off to a very good start. But what do the people of California think?

According to a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll, the top three issues going into the next era of California politics are universal healthcare, tuition-free community college and universal preschool. I’m proud to have been a co-author of legislation that would pave the way for all of these priorities to take shape.

Universal healthcare and expanding education quality and opportunities are policies that come with heavy price tags. But they are important policies to be considered, not only morally but economically. We have to consider how much capital is being taken out of our economy due to crushing medical expenses. It’s also true that today’s students are our future’s labor force. With those facts in mind we must all work together to figure out a way to achieve those goals in a way that will be economically sustainable for generations.

Striking a balance between addressing the needs of Californians today and Californians of the future is going to be the first major hurdle of the budget talks. As we return from the holiday break next month, I expect this conversation to heat up, and in the ensuing web of priorities I hope we can find common ground and do what is best for all Californians. What do you think the Legislature’s priorities should be going into the 2019-20 session? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and concerns. I look forward to another year serving you in Sacramento.

Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) represents La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, Glendale, Burbank and neighboring communities in the the 43rd Assembly District.

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