California Lawmakers Met Their Budget Deadline. Here’s What’s Left To Negotiate In The $300 Billion Spending Plan.

California budget: Big surplus, big differences - CalMatters

Source: Cap Radio, by Nicole Nixon

California state lawmakers approved a $300 billion budget this week, but several key sticking points remain between Governor Gavin Newsom and lawmakers, which could drag out negotiations on a final spending plan.

Under California law, the Legislature must approve a budget by June 15 or forfeit their pay and per diem until they do. The governor must sign the spending plan by June 30, in time for the state’s new fiscal year to begin on July 1.

Often, many budget details are worked out and approved in the weeks following those constitutional deadlines, which are referred to as “budget trailer bills.”

That appears to be the case once again this year, as top lawmakers and Newsom continue to negotiate over exactly how to spend a historic $98 billion surplus.

The budget approved by the Legislature Monday includes a record amount of money for public schools and higher education, as well as a total of $37.8 billion for budgetary reserves — nearly double the amount in savings before the pandemic in 2019.

It also includes $40 billion for infrastructure projects and funding to make Medi-Cal available for every low-income undocumented resident.

Despite the budget’s monstrous size, there are still many details for lawmakers and the governor to work out.

Republican Assembly member Vince Fong (R—Bakersfield) said the approved budget “fails to adequately address critical and core crises facing our state from the devastating drought to catastrophic wildfires, to a potentially crippling power shortage.”

Fong, who is the top Republican on the Assembly Budget Committee, criticized Democrats for passing an incomplete spending plan to meet their deadline and planning to fill in the gaps later. The practice has become the norm in state budget-making over the past decade, though Republicans say it lacks transparency.

Other unresolved issues include rebates to address skyrocketing gas prices and inflation, as well as reimbursement rate increases for state-sponsored child care providers and disability insurance, which received a temporary boost during the pandemic. Lawmakers want to increase those rates, but the Newsom administration is reportedly hesitant.

“It’s not a big surprise that when there’s a lot of money on the table, there might be more points of contention,” said Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget and Policy Center. “There’s often more contention about how to spend money during the good times because you’re expanding programs or you’re creating new programs or you’re doing one-time things.”

Another sticking point between top lawmakers and Newsom is the size and eligibility for a tax relief package aimed at helping Californians cope with inflation and record-high gas prices.

In March, Newsom proposed sending $400 per vehicle — up to $800 — to car owners to offset the rising cost of fuel. Leaders in the Assembly and state Senate have insisted on targeting tax relief to lower-income residents, who spend a higher percentage of their income on necessities like housing and transportation and are hit harder by inflation. Senate pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) unveiled their own plan to send $200 per person, with an additional $200 per dependent, for individuals earning up to $125,000 or families with incomes up to $250,000.

But three months later, neither side appears to have budged. In a statement after the Legislature’s budget was passed, Newsom’s office said the governor “would like to see more immediate, direct relief to help millions more families with rising gas, groceries and rent prices” and noting Newsom’s plan would spend $3.5 billion more on tax relief.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to call on Newsom and Democrats who control the legislature to suspend the state’s gas tax, which is set to increase from 51 cents per gallon to 54 on July 1.

“At a time when we have the highest gas prices not only in the nation, but in U.S. history, we need real solutions that will ease the burden on families, not increase the load,” Assembly member Suzette Valladares (R-Santa Clarita) said at a press conference Wednesday. “My colleagues and I are here … to remind Governor Newsom that it has been nearly 100 days since he promised he would bring Californians relief from the highest gas prices in the nation.”

Valladares told stories of constituents who had to sleep in their cars or skip university classes because they couldn’t afford fuel.

Republican state lawmakers argue suspending the gas tax would provide near-immediate relief to those most impacted by high gas prices.

Democrats have refused to cut the gas tax, citing the funding it provides for infrastructure projects. They also say there’s no way to guarantee oil companies and gas stations would not keep prices high and pocket the difference. A bipartisan bill attempts to address that issue by requiring fuel stations to pass on their savings and by backfilling lost revenue from the state’s burgeoning general fund.

Hoene said as an organization focused on improving life for the state’s lower- and middle-class residents, the California Budget Center prefers the Legislature’s approach of targeting relief based on income. He also thinks the state should deliver the fund through the Franchise Tax Board, which doled out millions of Golden State Stimulus checks last year.

“The best way to get aid into the hands of people who need it most is to base it on their income level,” Hoene said, “and deliver them a check — electronically or in other forms — which is exactly what we did two times over the past year, very successfully in the state.”

Popular State Worker Health Insurance Plan Projected To Go Up In Price 17% Next Year

Popular state worker health insurance plan projected to go up in price 17% next  year

Source: The Sacramento Bee, by Wes Venteicher

Premiums are projected to grow an average of about 7% for CalPERS health insurance policyholders next year, with two popular PPOs spiking by more than 14%, according to preliminary prices posted online Tuesday by the retirement system.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System provides health insurance for about 1.5 million people, including roughly 750,000 state and local public employees and retirees and about 770,000 dependents.

The system introduced changes two years ago that boosted PPO premiums while lowering costs for two expensive plans with the richest benefits. The changes are aimed at preserving the top-tier plans and stabilizing prices over the long term.

The plans that will go up in price are the PERS Gold and PERS Platinum PPOs. Together they cover about 278,000 people.

PERS Gold, covering about 124,000, is projected to increase in price by 17.8%, reaching $766 per month for an individual starting Jan. 1, according to preliminary figures.

PERS Platinum, covering about 153,000, is projected to go up 14.5%, to $1,084 per month next year, according to the figures.

The most popular plan by far that CalPERS offers is a Kaiser Permanente HMO that covers about 556,000 people. The Kaiser HMO is slated to go up about 6% next year, reaching about $853 per month.

The preliminary rates posted online are subject to further negotiation, and could change slightly before they are approved by the CalPERS Board of Administration next month. California pays about $650 per month toward individual state workers’ plans, and offers an additional $260 health insurance stipend to members of SEIU Local 1000.

Two years ago, the CalPERS board approved a new rate-setting methodology on the recommendation of its health insurance experts, who said the system needed to make changes to save three of its best plans.

Those plans — Anthem Traditional HMO, Blue Shield Access+ and a plan formerly known as PERS Care — attract people who spend the most on medical treatment. Insurers kept raising their premiums to cover large bills, driving healthy people away and prompting more price hikes.

That pattern, known as a “death spiral,” would have made the plans unsustainable, experts told the board two years ago.

So the board adopted a structure that, in oversimplified terms, essentially shifts money from plans with lower health risk to those with higher risk. As a result, the prices for the Anthem and Blue Shield plans are projected to go down by nearly 7% each next year, in a second year of price drops.

Plans formerly known as PERS Select, PERS Choice and PERS Care were combined into two plans, the Gold and Platinum plans, which under the new methodology are supposed to level off in price starting in 2024.

CalPERS also offers Medicare Advantage policies and Medicare supplemental plans for those who qualify.

Included in the offerings are Medicare supplement plans called PERS Gold and PERS Platinum that cover about 150,000 seniors. The Gold plan premiums are going up 4% and the Platinum premiums are going up about 10%.

Other popular Medicare plans will go up by a couple percentage points or be reduced. A Kaiser Permanente Senior Advantage policy covering about 111,000 seniors will drop in price by about 6.4%.

Open enrollment, during which policyholders may switch plans, will run from Sept. 19 to Oct. 14.

An Update on 401(k) Plan Asset Allocations

Sixty-six percent of 401(k) assets were invested in stocks at year-end in 2014, according to a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and the Investment Company Institute (ICI). Participants’ assets were invested in equity securities through equity funds, the equity portion of balanced funds, and company stock. Twenty-seven percent of assets were in fixed-income securities, such as stable-value investments, bond funds, and money funds. The reports also reveals the following:

  • More 401(k) plan participants held equities at year-end 2014 than before the financial market crisis (year-end 2007), and most had the majority of their accounts invested in equities. For example, about three-quarters of participants in their 20s had more than 80% of their 401(k) plan accounts invested in equities at year-end 2014, up from less than half of participants in their 20s at year-end 2007. More than 90% of 401(k) participants had at least some investment in equities at year-end 2014.
  • More than 70% of 401(k) plans included target-date funds in their investment lineup at year end 2014. At year-end 2014, 18% of the assets were invested in target-date funds, and 48% of 401(k) participants in the database held target-date funds. Also known as life cycle funds, these funds are designed to offer a diversified portfolio that automatically re-balances to be more focused on income over time.
  • A majority of new or recent hires invested their 401(k) assets in balanced funds, including target-date funds. For example, at year-end 2014, two-thirds of recently hired participants held balanced funds in their 401(k) plan accounts. Balanced funds comprised 42% of the account balances of recently hired 401(k) plan participants. A significant subset of that balanced fund category is invested in target-date funds. Thirty-five percent of the account balances of recently hired participants were invested in target-date funds.
  • 401(k) participants’ investments in company stock continued at historically low levels. Only 7% of 401(k) assets were invested in company stock at year-end 2014, the same share as in 2012 and 2013. This share has fallen by 63% since 1999 when company stock accounted for 19% of assets. Recently hired 401(k) participants are less likely to hold company stock. At year-end 2014, less than 30% of recently hired 401(k) plan participants in plans offering company stock held company stock, compared to about 44% of all 401(k) participants.
  • 401(k) participants were less slightly likely to have loans outstanding at year-end 2014 than at year-end 2013. At year-end 2014, 20% of all 401(k) participants who were eligible for loans had loans outstanding against their 401(k) plan accounts, down from 21% at year-end 2013, although up from 18% at year-end 2008. Loans outstanding amounted to 11% of the remaining account balance, on average, at year-end 2014, down 1% from year-end 2013. Nevertheless, loan amounts edged up a bit in 2014.
  • The year-end 2014 average 401(k) plan account balance in the database was 5.4% higher than the year before, but may not reflect the experience of typical 401(k) participants in 2014.
  • The average 401(k) plan account balance tends to increase with participant age and tenure. For example, participants in their 30s with more than two to five years of tenure had an average 401(k) plan account balance of close to $25,000, compared to an average 401(k) plan account balance of nearly $275,000 among participants in their 60s with more than 30 years of tenure.

Consumers Are Not Preparing for Retirement

Consumers are more confident that they will have a comfortable retirement than they were during the recession, but they have not done much to plan for retirement, according to a survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Greenwald & Associates. The survey reveals the following about workers in 2016:

  • 21% are very confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement compared to 22% in 2015 and 13% in 2013.
  • 42% are somewhat confident compared to 36% in 2015.
  • 19% are not confident compared to 24% in 2015.
  • 11% with a plan are not confident about their financial security in retirement compared to 38% of workers without a plan.
  • 83% without a plan have less than $10,000 in their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans. In contrast, 35% of workers with a retirement plan have $100,000 or more in savings and investments.

One In Five Baby Boomers Has No Retirement Savings

While the economy is bouncing back from the recession, Baby Boomers may have lasting consequences. New research from Mintel reveals that 20% of Boomers do not have any retirement savings. What’s more, 41% Baby Boomers have less than $250,000 saved for retirement. There are still concerns among Boomers who have been relatively good about saving, with more than $250,000 stashed away. Fifty-two percent are worried about having enough money to retire. Thirty-one percent are worried about outliving their money. Fifty-five percent of non-retired Boomers contribute regularly to a retirement savings account. These concerns are driving some Boomers to put off retirement with 15% saying that they do not plan to retire. This could be the result of Baby Boomers’ lack of education on retirement savings. Mintel research indicates that just 28% of Boomers say they understand enough about retirement investing compared to 11% of Boomers who have saved less than $100,000. Additionally, only one in 10 Boomers manage their finances according to a written financial plan, and 33% use a financial adviser to help with planning and investing. Only 10% of Boomers say they do not have financial concerns about life in retirement.

Boomers agree that major retirement concerns include having adequate health insurance (30%), paying for health insurance (29%) and paying day-to-day bills (29%). The youngest Boomers age 51 to 54 are significantly more likely than Boomers to be worried about having enough money to retire (66%) and paying day-to-day bills (39%). One solution is to engage Boomers in wellness programs.

Last Updated 06/29/2022

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