Constructing a California Budget That Is Least Injurious to the Most Vulnerable

urban-poorResolving our fiscal crisis will require many very difficult decisions, but our guiding principle must be constructing a budget that is least injurious to the most vulnerable. While we will have to take quick action to avoid the state sliding into insolvency, we must take that action in a thoughtful manner minimizing the potential permanent damage budget cuts will create.
California is suffering the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The combination of the financial crisis, the housing collapse and skyrocketing unemployment has left millions of Californians struggling. They’re struggling to stay in their homes, their struggling to find work, and they’re relying on government assistance more than ever. Unfortunately, just as this economic free-fall is pounding households across the state hard, it’s also triggered the biggest drop in state revenues in history.

Following the urgent warnings by the State Controller and Treasurer, the Legislature is on the clock to enact budget changes to prevent the state from going insolvent. Both Mr. Chiang and Mr. Lockyer believe we have until the end of the month to complete a revised budget including immediate cuts to enable the state to acquire short-term loans to keep the state afloat.

As bad as cuts to vital programs are, allowing the state to go insolvent is even worse. Such a result would mean that critical safety net services would stop getting paid causing disruptions at health clinics, child care centers, and hospitals across the state. That disruption could cause safety net services that already are hanging by a thread to close. Insolvency would also cut off funding to the 1.3 million aged, blind and disabled Californians who rely on that funding to survive as well as to public safety services in our communities. Clearly, failing to act is no option at all.

My constituents elected me to protect working families and their children, the elderly and our most vulnerable. I take this charge—my trust with the people of California very seriously. Difficult times require honest negotiations and bipartisan cooperation but the State Legislature cannot abandon its people and its sense of humanity.
I am working diligently with my colleagues on the Budget Conference Committee to make necessary cuts and develop the necessary new revenue options to keep this state afloat. I am adamantly opposed to eliminating fundamental programs that provide essential healthcare for low-income children, the sick and elderly.

Transparency is an important component of our process. It increases the accountability of decision-makers. A glaring gap of the budget discussion is the frank conversation of federal funding matches to critical services and the exponential losses in the basic quality of life for Californians. The Governor’s budget proposal would literally send billions of dollars in federal aid back to Washington, at a time when we can least afford to lose that support.

The Governor’s proposal to eliminate CalWorks guarantees about 500,000 mothers and one million children would be cut off completely from subsistence aid. This also includes women suffering from mental health issues and victims of domestic violence. Such a draconian cut could result in over one million children being made homeless. That’s not something any civilized society should tolerate.

Eliminating the Healthy Families Program would deny 950,000 children vital immunizations and preventative medicine, risking their health and the health of countless other children adding to the strain on the state’s already overcrowded emergency rooms. Eliminating the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) means 35,000 Californians will lose their HIV/AIDS medication and thousands more will go untested, leading to potential new infections and most likely death.

The Governor has also proposed eliminating the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS). That program provides vital services to 450,000 aged, blind and disabled persons unable to remain safely in their homes. Such a cut would force hundreds of thousands of people from their homes to much more expensive nursing homes. Today, there are fewer than 12,000 nursing home beds available in California, begging the question, where would these people go if this program was eliminated? Gutting IHSS would create a much larger cost in the long-run for the state at the same time robbing disabled people of the dignity of living safely in their own home.

The Governor is also proposing substantially increasing CSU and UC fees and at the same time eliminating Cal Grants for nearly 300,000 students. Such a move slams the door on middle-class young people who worked hard to attend college. Again, another short-sighted measure that hits poor and middle-class kids the hardest, weakens our workforce and jeopardizes our ability to remain competitive in a global economy.

As Democrats we look at people and see human beings with problems and potential. Too often many of our Republican colleagues look at people and just see statistics or numbers on a balance sheet predestined to follow a grid line. Well, statistics and numbers don’t get sick, or laid off from work, or confront discrimination, or grow old or have a disability. Human beings are different. And we understand this.

We understand that in these challenging times, the test of our progress will not be how many millionaires we make richer, but how many millions of Californians we help rise from the depths of poverty and dependency to find jobs for themselves, and a future for their families. In these challenging times, the test of our progress will not be how many criminals we incarcerate, but how well can we educate our children and keep them out of gangs and off of drugs.

As Democrats we must passionately promote policies that reflect this vision for the future—a future in which we measure our progress not merely in the quantity of our goods but in the quality of our lives—the purity of the air we breathe and the water we drink; the safety of our streets and the excellence of our schools.

Early investments in children’s education and good health care can pay for themselves through future savings to society. We will all be better off when every child in California receives a quality education and when all Californian’s have access to a college education and quality health care.

It’s time for a new direction in California. No more stumbling from crisis to crisis. No more being held hostage by a tiny minority. We must give the majority of the Legislature the power to enact a budget like virtually every other state in the nation. Right now six Republicans in the State Legislature have a veto power over all budget actions and this small group is threatening to drive our state off the cliff.

kevin_interview_1.jpgWorking families are suffering an unprecedented assault on both their quality of life and their prospects for the future. The disparity between the rich and poor is becoming greater and the poor are now being asked to shoulder all the burdens of our budget crisis. We can do better than this. We must do better than this. A brighter future is in front of us. To achieve that brighter future, we must stand together and fight for it.

Kevin de León

Kevin de León, Assemblymember, 45th District (Los Angeles). Chair, Assembly Appropriations Committee; Member of the 10-Member Joint Budget Conference Committee

Published by the LA Progressive on June 14, 2009
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