This week, I will cast one of the deciding votes on a state budget that bolsters our commitment to education and health care, invests in our crumbling infrastructure, strengthens our rainy-day fund and addresses the changing weather patterns that overflowed our rivers, washed away our roads and fueled the most devastating fires in state history — catastrophes from which we will be recovering for years to come.
The budget I plan to vote for will include nearly $100 million to cull drought-stricken trees from our forests and take other steps to reduce the natural fuel load for wildfires. Another $50 million will go toward restoring and rebuilding public property lost to natural disaster. Tens of millions will flow to school districts and local governments to make up for lost tax revenue.
There will be at least $15 million to modernize California’s public safety radio systems. And we will see a significant increase — $160 million — to Cal Fire’s operating budget.
It won’t include everything we want or need. Budgets don’t work like that. Although you would never know it from watching cable news, compromise is still very much at the heart of our political system, and everyone leaves the table with some, but not all, of what they want.
The budget is an indispensable tool for mitigating disaster and building a resilient future, but it is not the only means by which we can do what’s right for our community in the aftermath of the fires last October.
With the creation of the Select Committee on Natural Disaster Response, Recovery and Rebuilding, we brought our hard lessons to a statewide policy forum. As co-chairman of this committee, I’m determined that all Californians learn from our calamity. Because everyone needs to grapple with climate-driven risks and take steps to make our infrastructure resilient and our communities safe. Recovering from the fires isn’t a go-it-alone proposition. It requires a steadfast statewide commitment.
This committee gives us a platform to lift up the needs of our communities and our neighbors and to foster a statewide coalition to sustain a strong and productive response to disaster risk and recovery.
As weather patterns shift, experts tell us to expect bigger and more damaging storms, increased coastal erosion and a longer and riskier wildfire season.
We already are crafting legislation and identifying best practices to confront that reality. Post-fire policy proposals, dealing with everything from underinsurance to building permits, continue to wind their way through the legislative process.
We hope we will never see such a deadly cycle of drought-flood-fire again, but hope is not a plan. A budget, on the other hand, is indeed a plan. And the one we are about to adopt moves us in the right direction.
Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, represents Marin and southern Sonoma County in the state Assembly.
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