Gray Wields Axe
Davis proposes to cut $10 million from Monterey County budget.
Thursday, May 23, 2002
When Gov. Gray Davis announced that the state faced a multibillion-dollar shortfall in January, county officials knew the resultant budget cuts would hurt local programs, says assistant County Administrative Officer Rosie Pando. But they didn''t know how deep those cuts would have to go.
"We were prepared for some kind of cut-but not of this magnitude," Pando says. "We were shocked. This is pretty devastating news."
On May 14, Davis announced his plan of close the $23.6 billion budget gap-a dollar amount that is nearly twice as large as predicted in January-through program cuts and increased taxes.
Counties statewide, which rely on Sacramento to provide much of their operating money, are hit hard by Davis'' 2002 budget. Reduced spending in several areas would amount to $1 billion in cuts to county governments. This will likely mean a $10 million hit to Monterey County, Pando says, adding that programs that benefit the poor, "our most vulnerable population," will be the biggest losers.
The governor''s proposal would eliminate $221 million that counties receive to administer health and social service programs such as food stamps, Medi-Cal and foster care. Pando says this will likely translate to a 20 percent reduction in operations at the county''s health and social services departments.
Counties would also lose more than $120 million for juvenile crime prevention programs.
"That''s not even a scaled-back program," Pando says. "That means we have to eliminate funding for juvenile justice crime prevention programs."
It''s a Friday afternoon-three days since Davis announced his proposed budget. Pando has just gotten off of a somber conference call with other county administrative officers from all over the state. Phone briefings among members of the Association of Counties are likely to become a weekly occurrence, Pando says.
At the same time, Monterey County officials are reviewing Davis'' deep program cuts and crunching numbers to determine what the budget cuts means for the services they offer.
At press time, County Administrative Officer Sally Reed was set to present an analysis of the governor''s proposed budget to the Board of Supervisors on May 21 (past the Weekly''s deadline) as to what the numbers will mean locally.
They don''t look good, Pando says.
At the beginning of the year, facing a $12.5 billion state shortfall, Davis said his budget would not raise taxes. Since then, the budget deficit has grown to $23.6 billion and Davis'' revised budget does shows $2 billion worth of increases. The governor doubled vehicle license fees (on average from $64 to $148) and upped the state''s cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack.
Davis'' proposal also would cut $49 million in spending on state courts. Counties might have to make up the difference. The governor''s budget also eliminates $39 million to counties to protect farmland from development.
Poor people will suffer the worst injuries. Davis'' proposal would only allow families making $10,000 a year or less to be served by Medi-Cal. Currently, families making $15,000 a year are eligible. His budget also would reduce the amount of Medi-Cal reimbursements doctors receive.
"It''s a pretty devastating cut," says Cherie Stock, director of community relations at the county-run Natividad Medical Center.
Stock says she worries that more private doctors will leave the Medi-Cal program, forcing thousands of patients to seek care from Natividad or emergency health clinics.
"If [patients] are not going to get care from doctors in the community, they will begin to use the emergency rooms and urgent care system for primary care," Stock says. "It does shift some of the burden, which is obviously a more expensive way to get primary care."
Now Davis'' revised budget goes though negotiations with state lawmakers. The legislature is supposed to approve a final budget before July 1. County officials say they''ll fight Davis'' proposed cuts in welfare and health insurance.
"It isn''t over till it''s over," Pando says. "We''re talking with legislators, and we''re hoping that they will restore some of these programs. But we''re also wondering what else will drop out."