California governor proposes more cuts

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OAKLAND, Calif. - California Governor Jerry Brown released his 2012-13 budget proposals Jan. 5, including further slashes to already devastated human needs spending, and a hopeful projection of new revenues from passage of his ballot measure to hike sales taxes and taxes for millionaires.

The proposal for a general fund of $92.6 billion, originally expected to be released Jan. 10, was unveiled early after it had been accidentally posted online.

The governor requested $4.2 billion in cuts to cope with a projected $9.2 billion shortfall over 18 months. If voters pass it, his ballot measure is projected to bring in nearly $7 billion in new taxes over five years.

 The budget includes cuts of over $1 billion each from health services and the CalWORKS welfare-to-work program, but does not cut education. Brown said if voters fail to okay increased taxes, further deep cuts would also impact education at all levels.

 "These are painful reductions - mothers and kids will be getting the same welfare check in real dollars that they got in the '80s, and the same for the elderly, blind and disabled," Brown said. "These are not nice cuts, but that's what it takes to balance the budget."

Democratic legislative leaders balked when the governor urged them to approve most of the cuts by March, without waiting for revised projections to be made in May.

In a statement, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the Legislative Analyst's Office sees revenue growing. "If that trend continues even slightly," he said, "we may avoid the need to make the kinds of cuts the governor now suggests. While in the end we may have to cut more, doing it now should be a last resort."

Anthony Wright, executive director of the broad Health Access coalition, said in a statement that health services cuts would impact care for over 875,000 children, would hit community clinics and hospitals, and would shift 1.4 million seniors and disabled people into managed care programs whose effectiveness has been questioned.

"The cuts are poorly timed," he said, "in an economic downturn when these safety-net programs are even more in demand; when the local and state economy needs these dollars, and when federal matching dollars would also be lost with these cuts, and when the state is attempting to get ready to take advantage of the benefits of health reform. Cuts to health and human services impact not just low income California families, but our economy, and our health system."

Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association, commended the governor for pushing for increased revenue, along with cuts. But he called the cuts to CalWORKS "deeply troubling" in a state with high unemployment and a childhood poverty rate of 22 percent. "Reducing children and families' time for receiving assistance from 48 months to just 24 months will be devastating to families," he said, "particularly when jobs simply don't exist in California and families have no other choice but to turn to us for assistance."

Mecca noted that previous cuts to CalWORKS have resulted in increased homelessness and more child poverty.

Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation, said experiences in recent years have shown that a cuts only approach "just sinks California families deeper into economic quicksand ... Investments in schools, jobs, safety and other services offer the only hope we have of moving beyond perpetual budget  crises. To make those investments, we must raise the necessary revenue."

Though a ballot measure voters approved in 2010 lets legislators pass a budget by majority vote, a two-thirds majority is still needed to raise taxes. Democrats lead both legislative houses but fall short of that level, and nearly all Republican legislators have signed a Grover Norquist "no new taxes" pledge.

To overcome this barrier, a number of revenue-raising ballot measures, including the governor's, are being proposed for the November 2012 election.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW

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