Analysis of the 2008-09 Budget Bill: General Government

Military Department (8940)

The Military Department is responsible for the command and management of the California Army and Air National Guard. To support the operations for a force of more than 20,000 personnel, the department maintains a headquarters complex in Sacramento, more than 100 armories, maintenance facilities, training sites, and aviation centers throughout the state.

The mission of the National Guard is to (1) provide mission–ready forces to the federal government, (2) protect the public safety of the citizens of California by providing military support to civil authorities during natural disasters and other emergencies, and (3) provide service and support to local communities in California.

The budget proposes expenditure of $142 million, an increase of 6 percent. Roughly one–half ($73 million) of the overall funding for the department comes from federal funds. Proposed General Fund expenditures are $44 million, about the same as in the current year. The administration proposes a new tuition assistance program for National Guard members and an expansion of wildland firefighting capabilities. We discuss both proposals below.

Tuition Assistance Program Not Justified

We recommend deleting a request for $1.8 million from the General Fund to establish a tuition assistance program for National Guard members. The proposal suffers from several shortcomings. (Reduce Item 8940–001–0001 by $1,819,000.)

Tuition Assistance to Aid Recruiting. The department requests $1.8 million from the General Fund in the budget year to establish a tuition assistance program for National Guard members. Program costs would grow to $3.6 million annually in subsequent years. The department request is based on the idea that a tuition program would help in recruitment and retention activities. The administration intends to waive the cost of tuition, fees, books, and supplies for National Guard members through a program co–administered by the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC).

CSAC Operated Alternative Program. From 2003 to 2007, CSAC was authorized to administer the National Guard Assumption Program for Loans for Education (NG–APLE). The NG–APLE pays off student loans for qualified students who fulfill terms of enlistment in the National Guard. Due to administrative difficulties, however, the program did not begin to make awards until 2006–07. The program was allowed to sunset on July 1, 2007.

Legislature Has Rejected Other Proposals. The administration previously has made requests for tuition funding outside of the NG–APLE. For instance, the 2007–08 Governor’s Budget included $1.7 million from the General Fund for a tuition assistance program to be run by the Military Department. Similarly, the department has sponsored policy legislation to provide educational assistance in various forms. To date, the Legislature has rejected these proposals due to a variety of concerns. First, the proposed administrative mechanisms tend to be more complicated than the state’s APLE programs. This is because programs which provide waivers or grants (such as this year’s request), rather than loans, make it difficult for the state to recoup the funds if students fail to complete their military commitment. Second, the proposals have failed to fit within the state’s overall financial aid approach which targets assistance to those with demonstrated financial need. The Military’s proposals have not provided for a financial needs assessment of recipients. For these reasons, reauthorizing the NG–APLE would be preferable to the administration’s approach.

Recommend Rejecting Program. Despite the lack of the tuition assistance programs, the department reports that it has recently improved recruitment—by dedicating additional staff to the efforts. Given this and the concerns noted above, we recommend the Legislature reject the administration’s funding proposal for the new program. Furthermore, any proposal for a Military tuition assistance program should first be adopted through the regular legislative process. This would allow the proposal to be fully vetted by the Legislature.

Decision on Helicopters Tied to Surcharge Proposal

We withhold recommendation on a $9 million expansion of the Military Department’s wildland firefighting capacity pending the Legislature’s key decisions on a new funding source for such costs.

Administration’s Insurance Surcharge. As we discuss in more detail in the “Department of Forestry and Fire Protection” writeup in the “Resources” chapter, the administration proposes to authorize a new surcharge on the insurance tax to cover wildland firefighting costs. Through the surcharge, the administration proposes to fund a $9 million expansion of the Military Department’s role in wildland firefighting. The funds would be used to purchase $4.8 million in helicopter equipment and hire 36 staff (growing to 43 staff in 2009–10) to provide helicopter support on an around–the–clock basis. The department reports that currently staff are generally available during normal work hours.

Withhold Recommendation. As we discuss in the “Resources” chapter, we recommend that the Legislature adopt an alternative funding mechanism for wildland firefighting costs—a fee on state responsibility area property owners. We withhold recommendation on the Military Department’s request until the Legislature makes key decisions on a potential new funding source—including the funding mechanism, the amount to be raised, and the timing of implementation. Once those decisions are made, it will be easier to put the Military’s request in context of the state’s overall firefighting approach.  

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