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COMMENTARY: Holiday message from Assemblymember Toni Atkins

Friends,

As we reach the peak of the winter holiday season and look forward to the approaching new year, I want to take this opportunity to wish you and your family all the best of the season and to thank you for the privilege of representing the residents of the 78th Assembly District.

The end of the calendar year is also traditionally a time for looking back at the past year. With the Great Recession coming to a close, California's outlook is once again a positive one. The State Legislature, with the help of voters' approval of Proposition 30 to generate new temporary revenues, was able to make positive investments in California's future prosperity. Some of the steps forward we were able to take this year included:

• For the third year in a row, adopting a balanced, on-time budget that includes a substantial payment to reduce our debt and resulting in savings of $480 million in interest payments due to our improved credit rating.

• Providing every public school with a budget increase and allocating additional funding for our public colleges and universities.

• Establishing a Middle Class Scholarship program for families who have been shut out of the University of California and California State University systems due to rising tuition and fees.

• Funding programs for veterans, including "strike teams" to reduce the wait time for veterans benefits. The Legislature also approved a measure to fund veterans' housing that will be on the ballot in June of next year.

• Establishing Covered California to implement healthcare reform in our state. Hundreds of thousands of Californians have applied for new and better insurance coverage.

• Raising the minimum wage for the first time since 2008, putting $4,000 a year into the hands of families who in turn will boost our economy through their spending.

• Streamlining the process for business filings and strengthening business services through the Governor's Go-Biz program.

When the legislative session reconvenes on January 6, we will continue to build upon the past year's work and address some of the major issues confronting our state, including ensuring an adequate water supply for all, investing in affordable housing, protecting the environment and addressing climate change, and improving our state's business climate.

Until then, I wish each of you a joyous holiday season with friends and loved ones.

Season's Greetings and Happy New Year!