Community & Government Relations Report - December 17, 2012

Lame-Duck Congress Takes Up Fiscal Cliff

The lame-duck 112th Congress is back in session, addressing the so-called fiscal cliff. That’s the imaginative term used to describe the economic effects that will occur if scheduled tax cuts expire automatically and major budget cuts go into effect on January 1. While there are many aspects to these complicated issues, I would like to explore the impact on federal higher education spending and on the possible cap on charitable giving.

According to Julie Peller, deputy staff director at the House Committee on Education, there are a lot of unknowns if we go over the cliff. However, it is her belief that if sequestration happens, triggering the automatic spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, the student aid programs (Pell grants, federal student loans) are largely protected. There would be an 8% across-the-board spending cut to discretionary programs, such as TRIO programs for low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities.  
As the discussion continues, many ideas have been offered on how to trim the deficit. One in particular would cap the amount of charitable giving taxpayers can claim on their annual income tax. If such a measure were to pass, this would have major negative impact on Saint Mary’s ability raise private funds. Brother Ronald has written to U.S. Representative George Miller, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Dianne Feinstein in opposition to this idea. 
As the Congress continues to work to avoid the fiscal cliff, anything can be on the table. This uncertainly contributes to a sense of urgency in Washington and elsewhere.  
The 113th Congress will take office on January 3. 

State News

New Legislature to Convene This Month

Unlike the federal government, the state legislature takes office in December. The state constitution requires that all bills introduced be in print for 30 days before any action can be taken. Therefore, legislators take their oath in early December. Once sworn in, some legislators introduce new bills, typically ones that were left over from the last secession, then break for the holidays and return in January, thus satisfying the 30-day-in-print rule.  In addition to new bills in the legislature, the governor is scheduled to introduce his 2013-14 state budget in January. Since the passage of proposition 30 in November raised the sales tax to fund education programs, among other things, we will be eagerly awaiting to see how he funds Cal Grant going forward.

Middle Class Scholarship Act May Be Reintroduced

Assembly Speaker John Perez’ Middle Class Scholarship Act died in the waning hours of the last legislative session. This act would have reduced student fees for middle class students at the UC and CSU campuses. The speaker has indicated that he is interested in reintroducing this measure. The Association of Independent California Colleges, AICCU, is following this issue very closely and will be advocating for any new statewide financial aid programs that serve California students and families from all sectors, not just the public sector.

Local Members Chair Important Committees

As the new session opens, Contra Costa legislators are poised to wield muscle in the coming year. Local Assemblymember Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon) of the 16th District will be chair of the Assembly Education Committee.  Assemblymember Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) from the 14th District will chair the powerful Ways and Means subcommittee on education finance. This is the committee that oversees the Cal Grant portion of the governor’s budget. Bonilla, a former Cal Grant recipient herself, has always been a strong voice for funding Cal Grant.

Local News

New Faces on Moraga Council, Trotter Selected as Moraga Mayor

The Moraga Town Council seated its new members who were elected in November’s vote. Phil Arth, Roger Wykle and incumbent Mike Metcalf were sworn in to new terms.  Longtime Moraga councilmember Dave Trotter was selected by his council colleagues to be the mayor of the town for the coming year. This will be Trotter’s second term with the gavel.
Council members Howard Harpham and Karen Mendonca bid their colleagues farewell. We thank them for their service to the community and wish them well in the next phase of their life.

Your Opportunity to Serve Moraga

The Town of Moraga is seeking interested individuals to serve on various civic boards and commissions. If you are a Moraga resident, 18 years old or older, please consider serving your community by applying for one or more of the vacancies on the town panels. For more information and application materials please visit the Town of Moraga website.

Tim Farley, Director
Community & Government Relations