The $111.7 billion budget plan Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rolled out on Monday would close the estimated $9 billion shortfall next year without raising taxes, while it cuts money from all kinds of state services—including healthcare and schools.
“If we don’t get control of the autopilot spending, there will be deficits as far as the eye can see, and we will risk every program for years to come,” Schwarzenegger said. “Instead of a formula compelling more spending, we should have a formula that forces us to live within our means.”
Despite dismal findings by a national report that show California’s public school system lagging behind most of the nation on student achievement, funding, teacher qualifications, and school facilities, Schwarzenegger wants to give schools $2.3 billion less than they are owed under Proposition 98. His plan would also hike university fees, and cut pensions of teachers and other state workers. Welfare recipients would have their grants reduced, and workers who provide home care to seniors and the disabled would see their salaries axed.
Although the governor spoke of a “California where people spend less time sitting on the freeway” in his State of the State address, his spending plan would postpone traffic relief, as more than $1 billion worth of payments for road projects would be cancelled.
The governor also proposed a constitutional amendment that would impose a new spending cap, and threatened to go to the voters with a special election this summer if the legislators don’t act.
Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, says Democrats will propose alternatives that will protect in-home support services, transportation and education.
“Last year, [Schwarzenegger’s] May revisions didn’t bear much resemblance to his initial proposed budget,” Laird says. “We’re hoping this year’s will follow.”
A year ago, Schwarzenegger proposed massive cuts to public health programs and other social services, as well as state colleges and universities and local cities and counties. He found stiff opposition from social workers, wheelchair-bound seniors, students, teachers, and local elected officials; however, by the time the budget agreement was reached in July, the governor had compromised.
Laird also warns against some of the governor’s other big reform proposals, including a constitutional amendment that would force indiscriminate spending cuts whenever the state falls into the red.
“Some [programs] are 100 percent funded by an outside source, some draw down federal matching funds, and some are priorities anyway you look at it—healthcare for kids, K through 12 education,” Laird says. “You shouldn’t do across-the-board cuts. That’s a system I don’t think works; that’s a system we will strongly oppose, but I think will collapse of its own weight.”
Laird also says axing transportation projects would do more than harm local roads and highways. “Transportation is one of the places in the state budget where major numbers of jobs are provided,” Laird said, adding that he was “skeptical” of the governor’s plan to limit public pension funds and to base teachers’ pay on merit—which would presumably be judged by test scores.
“A teacher deciding whether to teach in a low-income district, where their skill would be very valuable, might now be guided to another district where the challenges might be less,” he said.
Simón Salinas, State Assemblyman from Salinas, criticized the budget plan as unfair to the young and poor.
“He has hit some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” Salinas says. “We certainly are all for a lean government, and for being efficient, but it gets to the point where you are cutting programs that are hurting people.
“It’s a starting point, it’s up to us to see if we can convince the legislature—and the people—that those are not good cuts to make.”
Monday’s proposals were the latest in a series of sweeping reforms Schwarzenegger has brought the legislature this month, calling a special session that began late last week.
His reform package also would overhaul the public employee pension system, and would create an independent panel of retired judges to determine the state’s congressional districts, taking the redistricting authority out of the hands of the politicians themselves.
Approximate number of drivers passing through a recent Salinas sobriety checkpoint who were inoxicated. Source: Safe Teens Empowerment Project.