State budget cuts
Local officials stunned by severity of Schwarzenegger’s proposal
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal of cutting 10 percent from the budgets of most departments within the state that receive general fund money has prompted Senator Mark-Ridley Thomas to conclude that if the reductions were enacted, they would further compound California’s deteriorating economy.
“ . . .Understanding the magnitude of our financial problems and the responsible choices that must be made while planning for California’s future, one can only conclude his plan is neither safe nor fiscally sound,” said the Los Angeles Senator (D-Los Angeles) about the governor’s proposals.
Ridley-Thomas further challenged the governor to close tax loopholes that favor the wealthy instead of taking away funding for programs that provide a safety net for millions of children and working families.
The plan, which Schwarzenegger hopes to have approved and in place by March, will make up a $3.3 billion gap that is projected for the 2008-09 budget.
The proposal will:
1. Reduce the California Community College system budget by $525 million, which according to Chancellor Diane Woodruff would mean the 109-campus system would not be able to serve 52,000 new students in the next year.
The California Community College system serves about 75 percent of all students currently in institutions of higher education in the state.
2. At the four-year college level, the California State University System—whose 23 campuses educate approximately 450,000 students year round and have a faculty and staff of 46,000—$312.9 million was shaved from its requested 2008-09 budget of about $4.8 million.
According to a university spokesperson, this means that a 2.5 percent enrollment increase has been eliminated. This would have admitted an additional 10,000 students for the next school year. Additionally, the system had asked the governor to buy out a $73.2 million student fee increase. Schwarzenegger’s proposal does not do that, which leaves students facing up to a 10 percent hike in fees.
In response to the governor’s budget proposal, CSU officials expect to close admission to first-time freshmen early (Feb. 1) for those campuses still accepting applications. This earlier deadline does not apply to community college transfer students.
3. The University of California system is facing a cut of $109 million, and this leaves students facing a potential seven percent fee increase.
“This budget proposal will have serious impacts on our ability to deliver on our mission for our students and for the people of California,” said U.C. President Robert C. Dynes. “State funding for the university is not an expenditure but an investment—an investment that produces real returns through an educated workforce, a dynamic economy, job creation, and new tax revenue.”
Overall the new proposal from the governor would put the U.C. System at more than $400 million below the amount requested by the Regents for the 2008-09 fiscal year.
4. Locally school district officials in Compton, Inglewood, and Los Angeles are “stunned,” and “depressed” about the potential impact of the cuts on their respective districts.
“It’s very depressing,” said Inglewood Superintendent Pamela Short-Powell. “We knew there were going to be cuts. We knew that the state was in trouble, and that inevitably over the past years, when the state is in trouble they always come after education. . . but we were not expecting it to be as drastic as what I have been hearing,” added the superintendent, who said she has also not been getting much good or concise information on the cuts.
Beyond education, Short-Powell is also concerned about the message other proposed cuts are sending, particularly the idea to close down one in five state parks.
“This is significant to me. It comes at a point when national research has come out saying that kids are very obese. And in this community we are not only dealing with obesity, but we are dealing with high rates of diabetes. We know good exercise and good clean air helps eliminate those factors in children. It’s pretty sad to know these resources are not going to be available for our babies.”
Los Angeles Unified School District finance experts are still combing through the proposed budget page by page, but according to Chief Financial Officer, Megan Reilly, the district could take a $40 million hit this year and as high as $500 million next year.
“This is huge. Our initial reaction was just shock, and for two reasons,” explained Reilly. “First it was the size of the cut. We didn’t anticipate this large of a cut, even though it was rumored. The other shock is the immediacy of these cuts. It’s really going to impact this year, because the programs and things have already been allocated. A mid-year reduction of this kind is extremely difficult.”
Parents and Students for Great Schools, a coalition of grassroots organizations representing more than half a million low- and moderate-income families, accused the governor of balancing the budget on children’s backs.
According to the group’s statement, the proposal slashes $400 million off the next fiscal year’s budget and suspends Prop. 98 (the education funding requirement) next year to cut an additional $4 billion.
“This proposal is unworkable and reckless. California already ranks 43rd in the nation in per-pupil spending. Our children can’t afford for our schools to drop below an already insufficient level of funding. At the very least, we should make good on the budget passed just four months ago, and retain the $4 billion required next year under Proposition 98,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates.
Solomon Rivera, executive director of Californians for Justice, adds, “Problem-solving the current budget situation will take creative solutions. Taking all forms of revenue enhancement off the table unnecessarily ties our hands. Borrowing against the future by suspending Prop. 98 simply postpones our financial responsibility and is not the answer for our students, our schools, and our state.”
Parents and Students for Great Schools consists of California ACORN, Californians for Justice, PICO California, and Public Advocates.
Beyond education, Schwarzenegger’s proposal, if passed intact, would force the Department of Health and Human Services Agency to cut general fund spending by $2.7 billion and it would require the elimination of nearly 370 jobs from the agency.
The bulk of cuts, $2.5 million, would come from two agencies under the department—Social Services and Health Care Services.
Among the programs in Social Services are foster care, food stamps, child and family welfare, disaster services, child abuse prevention, and welfare to work. The Health Care Services Department administers the Medi-Cal program and emergency preparedness efforts.
The California State Association of Counties (CSAC) estimates that statewide, counties are expected to trim $1.27 billion from the administration of human services and mental health programs. They are also being asked to cut from child welfare and mental health service for children and low-income adults.
“Counties recognize—and, can certainly empathize with—the extremely difficult fiscal situation that the state is in, and we understand that reductions in program funding will occur,” said CSAC Executive Director Paul McIntosh. “However, our counties are already being impacted by long-standing state reductions to critical programs and services including those delivered on behalf of the state. Counties also continue to contribute significantly to the state’s bottom line via the property tax shift of the 1990s. Additional cutbacks would be detrimental to county programs and services, and to the residents who rely upon them every day.”
In order to expedite consideration and passage of the budget cuts, the governor has called a fiscal emergency, and under the provisions of Proposition 58, he is also required to call a special session of legislature and propose legislation to address the emergency.
The state senate and assembly must approve and send legislation to the governor to address the fiscal emergency within 45 days. If this does not happen, the legislature cannot act on any other bills or adjourn until such legislation is passed.
In addition to the cuts, Schwarzenegger is proposing the Budget Stabilization Act, a constitutional amendment which he said is designed to keep spending under control and build in a savings program that will allow excess revenue in prosperous times to bridge the gap in lean times.