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Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas’ California Budget Priorities Forum
By Charlene Muhammad, Sentinel Contributing Writer
Published January 31, 2015

Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas held the California Budget Priorities Forum at Dorsey High School Math, Science and Technology Magnet on January 24 to examine spending priorities for the states 2015-2016 budget.

Governor Jerry Browns Budget Proposal released on January 9 includes spending $159 billion, which consists of $113 billion from the General Fund.

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During breakout sessions, Senate and Assembly committee chairs and high-ranking state government officials moderated discussions on funding needs for schools, housing, health, transportation and public safety. 

The public was invited to attend and offer their input on how state spending will affect them.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our charge.  Clearly the economy is paramount,said Assembly Member Ridley-Thomas. 

Jobs, the economy and education are key areas of importance to people who reside in his 54th District, he stated.  His aim for the forum was also to help secure the future of the state and his district, he said, underscoring some key points presented by Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer for the L.A. County Federation of Labor during his keynote speech.

Hicksaddress centered primarily on raising the minimum wage from $9 to $15.  In the city of L.A., $26 million went out of the pockets of workers each and every week, he told participants. Every week, $26 million, so I think theres specific industries that we can focus on,like the garden, service, and construction industries, he said.

Rather than the $9 minimum wage, workers in those industries are making $7 or less, he said.  I believe that there are some who would say if you raise the wage, youd drive business out of the state.  I would argue the reverse.  I actually think raising the wage is going to create jobs,Hicks said.

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He opined the reality is government through its budget needs help from an outside force and people must come to see the minimum wage issue simultaneously as a moral and economic imperative.

The question really is what kind of society do we ultimately want and how do we ensure that our budget, the use of our tax dollars ultimately reflect that vision,Hicks continued.

Following his remarks, participants broke into the following sessions:

Corrections, Public Safety, and the Judiciary, moderated by Assembly Member Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr. (Chair, Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 5 on Public Safety); Labor and Infrastructure, moderated by Patrick Henning, Jr. (Director, Employment Development Department), Education, moderated by Assembly Member Kevin McCarty (Chair, Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance), Resources, Environmental Protection, and Utilities

Moderators, moderated by Senator Fran Pavley (Chair, Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee) and Keali’i Bright (Deputy Secretary for Legislation, California Natural Resources Agency), and Health and Human Services, moderated by Senator Ed Hernandez (Chair, Senate Health Committee).

Im glad its here.  Im glad were having a discussion,said Dr. George McKenna, III, long-time educator and Los Angeles Unified School District board member.  The most important thing about the budget forum and any meeting is what participants do afterward with the ideas presented, which may be new or updated on whats already been accomplished, he told the Sentinel.

Im hopeful that this will continue to be an action agenda as opposed to a rhetorical report and some assumptions that we can do better, but we dont seem to do better.  I think were trying, but we havent gotten where we need to be,McKenna said.

Half of the states budget is earmarked for education, so it was good to see that session so heavily attended and to hear from community stakeholders, said Assembly Member McCarty.

Gov. Browns budget proposal includes $4 billion for K-12 local control funding.  McCarty stated more than $1 billion was cut from the states childcare and preschool budget over the last five years, and he hopes the budget is the beginning of restoring some of those services.

Weve lost about 100,000 slots for childcare and preschool.  We heard the president talking about this in this weeks State of the Union address, so we know its an important topic,McCarty stated. 

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