July 7, 2000


Commentary

New Budget Provides Tax Relief, Transportation Funds, Juvenile Facilities

By State Senator Dede Alpert

With the State's decade-long recession finally behind us and an unprecedented surplus in available budgetary funds, the State Legislature last month approved the state's $100 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2000-01.

A majority of the state's general fund revenues are already accounted for by way of spending mandates, like Proposition 98 requirements for K-12 education. This year's surplus, however, gave lawmakers a unique opportunity to make substantial investments in key areas of the state's infrastructure and priorities generally, with a particular emphasis on tax relief, transportation and juvenile justice.

Tax relief for all Californians was a fundamental component of the budget lawmakers sent to Gov. Gray Davis, with $4 billion in tax cuts spread over the next two years. If Gov. Davis approves, the lion's share of this tax relief comes in the form of a car-tax rebate. The Legislature had already agreed to a reduction in the car tax during last year's budget negotiations. The new budget, with its record surplus, allowed lawmakers to accelerate the phasing-out of the vehicle license fee by way of both regular, scheduled reductions as well as additional rebates that will be mailed to motorists every year.

Our proposal as sent to the governor also earmarks $195 million in child care credits, allowing parents to write off up to 2,400 per year in child care expenses. Low income senior citizens will also see benefits, whether they own their homes or rent. Renters over the age of 62 could garner up to $600 annually in tax credits, and property owners in the same age group could receive as much as $816 each year in tax benefit. In addition, credentialed teachers in k-12 public schools would receive a tax credit ranging from $250 (for those with four or five years in experience) to $1,500 (for those with 20 or more years). This tax credit would be limited to 50 percent of the tax liability attributable to teaching activities.

All Californians will also benefit from planned investments in transportation in the Legislature's budgetary proposal. Approximately $2 billion will be spent from general fund revenues and gasoline sales taxes through the year 2005 to fund a package of projects aimed at congestion relief. For San Diegans, $25 million has been earmarked for the completion of State Route 56, also known as the Ted Williams Parkway. Connecting Interstate 5 to Interstate 15, 10-mile-long SR 56 will reduce traffic on I-15 by 20 percent while also reducing pollution from congestion-slowed vehicles when completed.

Juvenile justice facilities and programs also received attention from the Legislature in this year's budget. Lawmakers approved more than $110 million in spending to build new juvenile detention facilities and renovate existing ones. Juvenile Challenge and Repeat Offender Prevention grant pilot programs were extended, and an additional $121 million was provided to counties for juvenile crime response and delinquency prevention programs. If approved by the governor, this money will be allocated on a per-capita basis, and San Diego stands to receive approximately $10 million of these funds.

Many local projects will also benefit from this year's budget pending Gov. Davis' authorization. The Legislature approved $1.5 million for Mission Trails Regional Park for the development and construction of an equestrian staging area and ranger station, and another $500,000 for the San Diego Maritime Museum's waterfront expansion. Two large water quality projects were approved - one to remove exotic species from the San Diego River, and another for wetland restoration surrounding the Sweetwater River.

Other projects were also approved by the Legislature to receive funds:

East Clairemont Community Park, for the design and construction of a new irrigation system, turf and security lights;

Senator Alpert can be reached online at senator.alpert@sen.cav.gov, or by postal mail at State Capitol, Room 5114, Sacramento, CA 95814.

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