Across California, students and those who depend on publicly-funded health care programs will be among the hardest hit if the draconian cuts in programs and services proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger survive in the final budget the Legislature passes this summer.

The governor’s proposals to close a $15 billion budget gap reject even modest tax increases on the wealthiest corporations and individual Californians. Instead, they take funds from social programs and bank on revenues that experts call uncertain at best.

“The governor is basically paying for his tax cut by slashing funds for K-12 and higher education,” Francisco Estrada, director of public policy for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), told the World. While things look less bleak for health and human services than they did in January, he said, the biggest remaining cuts are in education. “This governor is doing as previous governors have done,” he added, “trying to balance the budget with smoke and mirrors.”

After vigorous protests, Schwarzenegger rescinded two of the most controversial cuts to health care proposed in January – a cap on enrollment in public health insurance programs benefiting children, immigrants, AIDS patients, and the disabled, and a 10 percent cut to health providers serving Medi-Cal patients. The statewide Health Access coalition of over 200 organizations called the move “a victory for … the hundreds of thousands of Californians that would have been denied care under the enrollment caps, and the millions that would have had their access to care restricted under the provider rate reductions.”

However, community health clinics face an unprecedented cut of more than $72 million, and premiums would rise for some children in the Healthy Families program. While redesign of the Medi-Cal program serving poor Californians is postponed until August, Health Access says the revision heralds a future of “severe and long-lasting” cuts.

Also retained in the May revision is a $40 million cut in Children’s Medical Services Programs, which provide care for poor children with disabilities and chronic health problems as well as a program of regular health screenings for children and teenagers. MALDEF points out that the reduced funding for the screenings “will jeopardize the health of thousands of ailing Latino children in California.”

In a back-room deal bitterly resented by students and faculty, the heads of the University of California and California State University accepted the governor’s proposal to cut hundreds of millions in funding from the two systems in the next two years, with the promise of increased funding later. As a result, student fees will rise sharply while enrollment will be slashed by 10 percent. This will force many who would otherwise enroll at UC or CSU to take their first two years at community colleges instead, seriously overburdening these institutions which guarantee higher educational opportunity to poor working class students.

In a statement issued earlier this month, Matt Kaczmarek, president of the UC Student Association and student body external vice president at UCLA, denounced the pact and said, “This is not the end, and UCSA will continue to advocate against the governor’s cuts to be made on the backs of students.

“Education is a right, not a privilege,” he added. We look forward to working with legislative members who have voiced anger at this agreement and education advocates to protect the right of all students to a quality and affordable higher education.”

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Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.