As we enter this season of traditional holiday cheer, Californians continue to be anxious about the continued sluggishness of our economic recovery. I am among them. The specter of further cuts to the current year's budget - especially from education - is of serious concern to all of us.
Last month, the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) released its fiscal outlook for next year. The report notes that the state's overall economic recovery is slower than expected. While the economy shows a few bright spots, including export growth and strength in technology-related service sectors so important to California, weakness in the housing market continues to affect both the construction industry and the financial services sector.
Should the Department of Finance's revenue projections released later this month align with the expectations of the LAO, the state may face an additional two billion dollars of "trigger cuts" contained in the budget enacted last July.
We understand and share the concern of many Californians about "trigger cuts" that will impact K-12 education and public safety programs. Democratic legislators reaffirm our commitment to continue fighting for a budget that protects our state's priorities - investments in K-12 education and higher education, a regulatory environment that promotes innovation and job creation across business sectors, and a tax system that is fair and equitable for California's working families.
From the beginning of this year, legislative Democrats and Governor Brown have discussed the need for a balanced approach to budgeting - implementing tough cuts while also ensuring the tax system is applied fairly. Only with that balance can California receive the revenue necessary to build and maintain the infrastructure our economy needs to thrive.
We are prepared to continue this work into next year and to support the Governor's revenue package that he intends to place before the voters in November which will, if successful, help avoid further damage to education, higher education and services to those in need. Putting the final decision in the hands of the voters, who know and understand their needs for California, gives me great hope that we will succeed.
As always, please contact my office with any of your needs - we are here to serve you. My district office, located at 1020 N Street, #576, may be reached at (916) 651-1529.
Darrell Steinberg, Senate President pro Tempore
6th Senate District
In this e-newsletter please read about:
- The Governor's Approval of Autism Insurance Coverage
- Education Reform—Merging College Preparedness and Career Training
- Help is Coming for Student Loans
- Proposition 8: California Supreme Court
- December Events in Sacramento
Steinberg's Autism Insurance Coverage Bill Signed
Answering the call for action raised by frustrated California parents, I worked with my colleague, Senator Noreen Evans, to pass SB 946, landmark legislation requiring health care insurers to provide coverage for behavioral treatment of autism. Absent the coverage, parents pay out-of- pocket expenses that can reach $50,000 per year.
SB 946 requires insurance companies to cover behavioral therapy for children and young adults until July 1, 2014, bridging the gap until the federal Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act goes into effect.
Earlier this year the Senate Select Committee on Autism and Related Disorders held a hearing on behavioral therapy and found it to be an effective approach. The Committee also continues extending its reach through regional autism taskforces throughout California, so communities can share best practices in working with students with autism, helping those students as they advance through schooling and transition to meaningful and productive employment.
Career Training for the New Economy
This year, I carried a package of education bills designed to help students transition between high school and college or vocational training. SB 611 and 612 were signed by the Governor in October.
SB 612 reauthorized a proven teacher professional development program - the California Subject Matter Projects (CSMP). It also allowed a retooling of the CSMP to meet the needs of the new economy by including professional development focused on delivering hands-on, integrated curriculum that is connected to high-need sectors of the economy.
SB 611 brings together secondary teachers, University of California researchers and other experts to develop new, model courses that provide students rigorous academic content with real world application in today's job market.
Together, these bills provide the foundation for a relevant, career-oriented high school education that will be suited to the rapidly changing and innovative economy of the Golden State.
Help is Coming for Student Loans
For the first time in history, student loan debt in this country is now greater than credit card debt. As California's colleges and universities continue to raise tuition and fees, students and families are forced to apply for ever-increasing loan amounts to cover their education obligations and living expenses. Still, many in the workforce are returning to school, oftentimes worried that they will not be able to support their families.
President Obama recently announced new investments in Pell Grants and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. He is also proposing an "Income-Based Repayment" plan for federal student loan debt by capping, until 2014, monthly loan repayments at no more than fifteen percent of the borrower's taxable income. And for borrowers who took out loans after 2008, the limit will be reduced to 10 percent, staring in July 2014.
Federal officials are also encouraging the six million students who have an outstanding Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) and a Federal Direct loan to consolidate the two loans into a new Special Direct Consolidation Loan. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2008 abolished the FFEL Program. Consolidating the loans will help the Department of Education save expenses on administering the defunct program and simplifying loan payments into one monthly payment will help reduce the risk of default.
The government is offering a 0.25 percent interest rate reduction on FFEL program loans that are consolidated and another 0.25 percent reduction if the consolidated loan is repaid through the Education Department's automatic debit system. Borrowers who are unsure on how to consolidate their student loans are encouraged to contact the Student Debt Repayment Assistant program. A US News and World Report article provides further detail on this issue.
To check and see what type of loan you may have, click here. Additional useful information for students interested in understanding the cost of a higher education can be found here at "what you should know before you owe."
Proposition 8: California Supreme Court
In a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court has decided that the sponsors of Proposition 8, the controversial ban on gay marriage in California, have standing to defend the voter-approved measure in court when the state refuses to do so. This decision allows the sponsors to defend the measure, potentially, all the way to the US Supreme Court.
In the 7-0 decision, issued by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the Court concluded: "In response to the question submitted by the Ninth Circuit, we conclude, for the reasons discussed above, that when the public officials who ordinarily defend a challenged state law or appeal a judgment invalidating the law decline to do so, under article II, section 8 of the California Constitution and the relevant provisions of the Elections Code, the official proponents of a voter approved initiative measure are authorized to assert the state‘s interest in the initiative‘s validity, enabling the proponents to defend the constitutionality of the initiative and to appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative." A link to the full opinion can be found here.
Gay rights and many other groups were disappointed by the ruling, hoping that the Court would deny the initiative's sponsors' standing in the case. The case now returns to the 9th Circuit Court, which is considering a repeal of a previous ruling that overturned Proposition 8. The Court is expected to rule on the case in a short period of time. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the 9th Circuit is not bound by the state's high court ruling; however, it is less likely that it will decide the case on narrow standing grounds and speculates that the case will end up in the US Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
December Events Calendar
Second Saturday Art Walk
WHAT: Galleries are filled with art by local artists, live music, food and interesting events going on throughout Midtown.
WHEN: December 10th, 2011 5:00-10:00PM
WHERE: Midtown Sacramento
California State Capitol Museum Holiday Music
WHAT: A wide array of free, live music ranging from classical quartets to flute ensembles.
WHEN: December 1st-December 23rd, 2011
WHERE: The California State Capitol 1315 10th St.
MORE INFO: To view the schedule of performers, please visit: http://capitolmuseum.ca.gov/detail.aspx?content2=2718&content3=2740
Holiday Magic at the Sacramento Zoo
WHAT: Come to the Sacramento Zoo to watch animals unwrap their holiday gifts. Zoo staff will be on hand to share facts, secrets, and answer questions. Admission is $11.00, $10.25 for seniors, $7.00 for children ages 2-11 and free for children under the age of 2. Bring a toy donation and receive a dollar off admission prices.
WHEN: December 10th, 2011 10:00AM-4:00PM
WHERE: Land Park Drive and Sutterville Road, Sacramento
MORE INFO: To find out more about Holiday Magic and see pictures from last year, please visit: http://www.saczoo.org/Page.aspx?pid=503