SACRAMENTO — Workers were removing the ornaments from the Christmas tree at the Capitol here on Jan. 10, and much the same mood filled the legislative chambers as Gov. Jerry Brown (pictured) unveiled his Grinch-like budget.
It included $12.5 billion in spending cuts, with a 10 percent cut in take-home pay for some state employees and deep reductions in social services. He also suggested a five-year extension of a bundle of taxes, a plan that requires voter approval, setting the stage for a potentially contentious special election in June.
The budget is meant to address an estimated $25.4 billion deficit, just the latest shortfall for a state that has experienced a drumbeat of bad economic news in recent years. But Mr. Brown, who took office last week, cast the blame even further, saying the state’s leaders had spent the last decade balancing their books with “gimmicks and tricks and unrealistic expectations that pushed this state deeper and deeper into debt.”
But that period, Mr. Brown repeatedly emphasized, was over.
“What I propose will be painful,” he said. “It’s going to take sacrifice from every sector of California.”
In terms of sheer dollars, the steepest cuts affect the most vulnerable in the state, including a $1.7 billion cut to Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for poor families and disabled people; a $1.5 billion reduction in its welfare-to-work program; and $750 million cut from the agency that provides services to those with developmental disabilities.
The state’s higher education system — including the highly regarded University of California — would lose $1.4 billion. The president of the university, Mark G. Yudof, who has dealt with protests at several campuses over tuition increases, called it “a sad day for California,” but he seemed to recognize the gravity of the state’s bind.
“The university will stand up and do all it can to help the state through what is a fiscal, structural and political crisis,” Mr. Yudof said. “There can be no business as usual.”
That sentiment seems to be an early mantra for Mr. Brown, a Democrat who became governor for the second time. He also proposed on Monday what he characterized as a “vast and historic” reorganization, moving many duties now handled by the state down to a local level. (Some of the shift of power to the state occurred during the first Brown administration, when the voter-approved Proposition 13 cut local taxation power.)
Under Mr. Brown’s plan, a raft of state functions — like fire and emergency response, court security, and housing for low-level criminals and oversight of adult parolees, among others — would become local or county responsibilities. The proposal was met with guarded support by county officials.
“Realignment can only succeed if there are stable revenues to fund the new responsibilities being handed to counties,” said John Tavaglione, the president of the California State Association of Counties.
Budget analysts said Mr. Brown’s approach seemed more realistic, with less reliance on borrowing, than some budgets offered by his immediate predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.
On Monday, Republicans — in the minority in the Legislature — seemed cool to putting any tax proposal on the ballot.
“Assembly Republicans stand united as the last line of defense for California taxpayers,” said Connie Conway, the Assembly’s Republican leader.
Mr. Brown said that he would vigorously campaign for the taxes and that deeper cuts awaited if voters rejected the tax extension.
“People should assume that’s what’s left is what will be cut,” he said.
Even if the taxes pass, the effect of the budget cuts will be harsh, said Jean M. Ross, the executive director of the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan group that evaluates the repercussions of public policy on low- and middle-class Californians.
The cuts, “especially in health and human services, are very difficult at a time when the economy remains extremely weak,” Ms. Ross said, adding that the effects could be multiplicative, as poor families received less aid but had to pay more for care.
The cost of health care was the focus of several hundred protesters who gathered on the Capitol steps after Mr. Brown’s announcement, demanding that the state adopt a single-payer health system. Inside, a group of advocates in wheelchairs also criticized a steep reduction in financing for in-home care.
“Some people are going to lose their lives on this,” said Greg Thompson, executive director of the Personal Assistance Services Council of Los Angeles County, which has some 185,000 people receiving in-home care. Mr. Thompson uses a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury.
Mr. Brown acknowledged that many of the cuts would be “very, very difficult,” especially for low-income Californians. But he said it was time for the state to “pay the piper.”
“This is the world we live in,” he said. “You can’t manufacture money.”
Friday, January 14, 2011
Deep budget cuts in California social services could have dire consequences for people with disabilities there
The NY Times:
Posted by BA Haller at 10:16 AM