It’s difficult to simply lay out the bare facts of this latest budget revision, because, unlike other budget negotiations, and other budget solutions, this one takes our state to what the Los Angeles Times calls a “shabbier, less generous and…more dangerous” place. This is a very, very different state than most of us have lived in, because the Governor has finally managed to enact most of right-wing strategist Grover Norquist’s playbook right here in California: shrink government down to where you can “drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub,” characterize the poor as lazy and deserving of sanctions and cuts, shred the safety net, characterize government workers as greedy and overpaid and slash their salaries, close state parks, undermine public schools and pretend you had no choice but to do it all.
The June Budget Fails More Than Once
As predicted in my last budget essay, the Democratic budget, which balanced tax hikes, deep cuts and borrowing, failed in a Floor vote on June 24. On the very first of the 20 trailer bills, one that would have enacted $11 billion in cuts, all Republicans and Democratic Senators Yee and Correa combined to defeat it in the Senate, claiming they “couldn’t vote for such deep cuts,” as though there were really any other choice. The Assembly also defeated the bills. State Controller John Chiang indicated that a failure to fix the budget would force him to issue IOU’s (called Registered Warrants) on July 2.
The next day, Speaker Bass and President Pro Tem Steinberg put up a responsible proposal to immediately cut $3.3 billion from the education budget in an effort avoid the issuance of IOUs, which would draw interest and, therefore, cost more than the face amount. On votes of 69-0, 54-0 and 69-0, the Assembly approved the bills to cut school spending, delay payments to schools and to transfer money from regional redevelopment agencies to the state to be used in “areas where there are schools”, to get around a court ruling that required redevelopment money to be used within redevelopment agency areas.
The Governor, in league with Senate Republicans, said he would not sign such stopgap measures, calling them a “partial fix”.
This rejection caused the deficit to grow by $2 billion overnight.
If you can’t get what you want, take hostages
Whenever I think about our Governor, I can’t help but think about movies. So much of his imagery is taken from films — his own, mostly. Of course, the quote in the title of this essay is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and one has only to look at the many budget signing pictures, or the picture of the governor leaning back with a good stogy, satisfied with the demise of the safety net, to understand.
The movies that seem most appropriate, however, to illustrate the time between his rejection of the cuts outlined above and his signing of the final budget solution, as well as his further slashing of the safety net through line-item vetoes, relates to the way he kept punishing state workers whenever the Legislature brought him another budget that wasn’t exactly what he had proposed.
It’s definitely a hostage movie, a bank robbery, or a commandant threatening to kill the villagers if he doesn’t get his way kind of film, with the Governor saying, “Bring me the budget I asked for or I’ll beat up the state workers.” He didn’t like the budget he got so, bang, every state employee lost 5%.
They modify the budget and bring it back and he says “That’s not the budget I want” and cuts state workers another 5%. Then another 5%. Even though the Board of Equalization indicated that the furloughs would save $20 million, but cost $187 million in lost revenue, he seemed to say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.”
“Why do they keep sending me budgets I won’t sign?”, the Governor asked, after saying no, once again, to any proposal but his own, cuts-only solution. And, since he had all the guns, no one in the Legislature asked in return, “Why does he keep refusing our budgets?”
Perhaps we could throw in a little Marie Antoinette, as well, since the Governor, in a number of conversations, revealed his (somewhat 1980s) opinion of welfare recipients, insisting that they were just not motivated to work since they got money anyway (not exactly true) and just needed some strong sanctions to motivate them to go to work. So they must report in more often, must go off of CalWorks sooner and generally get less credit for the training that could really lead them to jobs. There is, of course, no actual basis for the Governor’s opinion of the poor, except for the fact that he has never actually spoken to (or, perhaps, even better, listened to) a CalWorks recipient. It reminds me of what Teddy Kennedy said about Ronald Reagan: “He must love the poor, he made so many of them.”
The Budget That Was Signed
The greatest blows were heaped on the poor, the elderly and children in schools. The Governor refused a 9.9% tax on oil companies that extract oil in California (Gov. Palin signed a 25% extraction tax in Alaska), had already slashed the vehicle license fee, and adamantly refused to consider any taxes or fees. What suffered as a result: higher education, parks, battered women, foster children, and every poor person in this state (more and more in this economic downturn), the sick, both uninsured and underinsured, and impoverished seniors. Last month, for the first time, in our state of 38 million, more than 7 million people qualified for MediCal.
The budget package projects $89.5 billion in revenues and transfers to the General Fund, and authorizes total General Fund spending of $84.6 billion, with an estimated reserve of $500 million.
- Reduces Proposition 98 appropriations for K-12 education by another $5.3 billion and community colleges by an additional $800 million.
- Reduces by $2 billion–to the minimum level required for federal stimulus funding–payments to UC and CSU.
- Rejects the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the CalGrant program.
- Rejects the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the Healthy Families Program, but further reduces support by $179 million, mostly gutting it.
- Reduces Proposition 36 substance abuse programs by $90 million.
- Shifts (steals) $1.7 billion of local redevelopment funds.
- Reduces court funding by 10 percent for $169 million of savings. Assumes one-day-per-month court closures.
- Reduces CalWORKS (California’s welfare-to-work program) by 510 million.
- Reduces In Home Support Services by $264 million by eliminating some services for all but the most severely disabled, making the least disabled ineligible for all services, and implementing several antifraud activities, such as requiring providers and recipients (the disabled) to be fingerprinted. (As the LA Times wrote in their August 1st editorial: we can’t have those seniors flitting from county to county trying to get more sponge baths).
- Reduces funding to counties for Child Welfare Services by $80 million.
- Rejects the Governor’s proposals to eliminate CalWORKS.
- Does not include either the Governor’s proposal to close most state parks or the legislative proposal for a vehicle fee to support the state parks system. Reduces General Fund support for state park operations by $8 million, requiring the closure of about 50 parks.
- Steals $62 million in “loans” from resources-related special funds (like the tire fees used to clean up tire piles and recycle tires, which brings in millions of dollars a year. Look for the return of tire fires in the state).
Sheila James Kuehl
Sheila James Kuehl was appointed to the California Integrated Waste Management Board on December 1, 2008, after having served eight years in the State Senate and six years in the State Assembly. Senator Kuehl served as chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee from 2000-2006. Her website is www.sheilakuehl.org