Gov. Brown's $138B budget includes millions for homeless aid

Gov. Jerry Brown has consistently warned that California is riding a wave of economic growth and the budgetary good times will eventually end.
Gov. Jerry Brown has consistently warned that California is riding a wave of economic growth and the budgetary good times will eventually end.
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Cities and counties would receive $359 million from surplus state revenue to help California’s growing homeless population under the proposed budget Gov. Jerry Brown announced Friday.

About a fourth of homeless people in the United States live in California, which has just 12 percent of the country’s overall population, according to federal data.

Brown, a Democrat who has been criticized for not acting more quickly to address the problem, said the money will help, but more will be needed to solve the root causes of homelessness, including mental illness and drug addiction. It will be a challenge for whoever is elected in November to succeed Brown.

“It isn’t enough to just throw dollars down to the cities,” Brown said at a news conference.

The money would include $250 million for emergency aid block grants, $32 million for the state’s welfare program CalWORKs and $50 million for people with mental illness. It also includes funding for domestic violence shelters, a state council that coordinates homeless assistance, and support for homeless youth and seniors.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Friday he and other mayors are sorting out what the money would mean for local government. A bipartisan group of mayors from California’s 11 largest cities has lobbied at the state Capitol this year for $1.5 billion to tackle homelessness.

Liccardo said he appreciated Brown’s response to their request, but said they’ll push “for a larger commitment in light of the magnitude of the crisis.”

Liccardo said money could go toward building tiny housing units at a cost of $20,000 each and rehabilitating motel rooms into usable apartments.

The budget should include even more money for permanent housing with on-site support for homeless people, Assemblyman David Chiu said.

“The governor’s budget does not invest enough of California’s considerable surplus into programs that would address the high cost of housing (and) the state’s severe homelessness crisis,” the San Francisco Democrat said in a statement. “If we are going to have a lasting impact on the lives of all Californians we must invest more in increasing the supply of affordable homes for our rent-burdened, low-income families.”

The funding Brown proposed would be a one-time expenditure to tide communities over until new fees approved last year start generating revenue, Brown says.

Last year, lawmakers approved a fee on real estate transaction documents to fund subsidized housing. They also placed a bond measure on the November ballot to allocate $4 billion for housing for low-income people and veterans.

Brown’s budget proposal also calls on the Legislature to place another bond measure on the November ballot for $2 billion to house people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes. Lawmakers approved the money in 2016, but it has since been tied up in court because of a lawsuit that argues the money comes from a source voters approved to fund mental health services, not housing. Brown says bringing the issue directly to voters will clear up the legal questions and allow the money to be spent.

More than 25 percent of homeless Californians have severe mental illness, according to Brown’s office.

The budget proposal also includes an additional $312 million for overall mental health services, including care specifically for young people and early detection.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg applauded the increased money for mental health and homeless aid in the updated budget proposal, known as the May revision.

“For the first time ever in my memory, mental health is a lead issue in the May revision,” Steinberg said. “This is a tipping point.”

$138 billion

The release of Brown's $137.6 billion spending plan kicked off his last round of negotiations with Democratic legislative leaders.

His latest budget is up nearly $6 billion from his earlier proposal in January. The Democratic governor wants to save most of the surplus to protect spending during a future recession. But in addition to the money set aside for homelessness, he proposed $2 billion for infrastructure, including universities, courts, state facilities and flood control.

He’s also still pushing for a new online community college to train working adults who don’t have the time and flexibility for a traditional college program.

Legislative Democrats and outside interest groups are pushing to boost funding for health care, higher education, welfare, child care and a wide variety of other initiatives.

Assembly Democrats said Monday they’ll push for a $1 billion boost in spending on health care, including $250 million to provide state-funded health coverage to low-income California residents living in the country illegally through the Medi-Cal program. Their proposal would also provide money to offset monthly premium costs for people who buy their own insurance coverage.

Assembly Democrats have also proposed expanding the earned-income tax credit to help the working poor.

Brown’s opening proposal in January would have spent $131.7 billion from the general fund. By law about half of the budget is automatically directed to K-12 education and community colleges.

His January proposal introduced the plan to create a new online community college that would primarily serve working adults. His administration has aggressively worked to sell lawmakers on the plan and said recently that the first curriculum would be a certificate in medical coding.

Brown will negotiate a final spending plan with Democratic legislative leaders. The Assembly and Senate have until June 15 to pass a budget under the state Constitution. If they’re late, lawmakers’ pay will be docked.

Brown has presided over a stark turnaround in California’s finances. The state’s budget, which has historically been subject to steep highs and deep lows, has grown 45 percent since 2011, when he took office facing a $25 billion deficit thanks to significant income growth among wealthy taxpayers. Forty percent of California’s personal income tax revenue comes from people earning $1 million or more per year.

Republicans say the budget growth is a sign that taxes are too high.

Associated Press writer Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this report.

This story has been updated.