CALEXICO – California Senator Ben Hueso and State Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia visited Calexico last weekend to reveal the nuances of the new California state budget and how they believe Imperial County’s economic needs and endeavors align with the future plans of the rest of the state.
“Assembly member Garcia and I wanted to convene a round table to talk about how we can get input from all of you in terms of how we can better assist you at the state level, and how we can work together to prioritize resources to make sure that Imperial County is a better place to live, a better place to work, and that Imperial County is part of a vibrant economy,” Hueso opened.
Next year’s state budget is the largest budget in California’s history, and is the one that allocates the most amount of funding per pupil for education, he said.
“Not only is our budget growing, but we are increasing our rainy-day funds. So, if ever our budget goes down in the future, we’re going to have funds that we are setting aside in the good years to make sure that we don’t make enormous budget cuts in the bad years,” said Hueso.
This year’s budget allocated $174 billion total, he said. It is the largest budget for the state with the fifth largest economy in the nation as opposed to fifteenth in 2010. Currently, California has the world’s sixth largest economy in a statistical tie with England, according to Hueso.
Three billion dollars were added to the education fund, bringing it now to about $74 billion with $2.8 billion going to infrastructure and roads, he said.
“Fuel efficiency has really created a situation where our ability to maintain our roads is becoming almost impossible,” said Hueso.
A $5 billion annual fund will be designated to fix unfinished roadwork projects that will also in turn, create more employment opportunities, while $ 546 million was budgeted for greater access to health care, he said.
“We know that Imperial County needs health care in this area and we need to help our hospitals stay in business to make sure that everybody has access to quality health care,” stressed Hueso. “We are inching along every year to do better and look what has happened – when people argued that our county can’t support these aspirations and that it would be too expensive, we are bringing more money to our state and all of these investments are having a positive effect at reducing unemployment and increasing our economic welfare.”
Hueso also said the El Centro California Highway Patrol Office will receive $30 million to fund the design phase of a new area office. Also, the Veteran Resource centers will receive an additional $5 million to help veterans more easily earn degrees at local universities and community colleges.
The budget will increase healthcare reimbursement rates by 16 percent and MediCal benefits will be restored for the first time in nearly a decade, according to Hueso.
“If our economy is going to continue to grow, if the community here in Imperial County is going to continue to exist, we have to do something about the Salton Sea,” said Hueso.
“This year we are pushing for a ten-year plan to improve the Salton Sea and work to reduce the impacts of the shrinking sea. We have to improve the poor air quality and the elimination of a sustainable environment that supports migratory birds and fish. We have to find a solution to keep this body of water healthy,” added Hueso.
The companion bill to the budget is a state bond that will create a new obligation bond that the state could put on the ballot in 2018 for voters to create a $500 million bond for the renovation of the Salton Sea, he said.
“We have some of the poorest air quality in the nation, and if the sea continues to decline, people will not be able to live here in a healthy fashion and we already have over 15,000 children that have been diagnosed with asthma,” concluded Hueso.