SAN FRANCISCO – California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s final budget proposals, issued Jan. 8, are assuring that when he leaves office at the end of this year, he will be forever known as “the terminator” in real life as well as on the silver screen.
Schwarzenegger proposed to meet what he said is a $19.9 billion budget shortfall in the next 18 months with further draconian cuts to human services programs, state worker compensation and more.
Revenue-raising proposals included no tax increases. Instead they focused on gaining nearly $7 billion in greater federal funding of federally mandated programs – money Schwarzenegger claims the federal government “owes” the state. Other measures are subject to challenge by courts, unions and voters, including redirecting moneys from voter-approved ballot measures, a surcharge on residential and commercial property insurance, and a 5 percent cut to state workers’ salaries.
Schwarzenegger dismissed the idea of a second federal stimulus package, saying he is not interested in “one-time-only revenues.”
Declaring a fiscal emergency, the governor called the legislature into special session, warning that delays in passing a budget would only cause the shortfall to grow.
Even if the state does receive the increased federal funding, Schwarzenegger calls for slashing the In Home Supportive Services program that helps elderly and disabled Californians stay in their homes by over $900 million, including cutting caregivers’ pay to minimum wage. The state welfare program, CalWORKs, would be cut $130 million.
If the federal funds don’t come through – something analysts think is more likely – he would eliminate IHSS altogether, along with CalWORKs and health insurance for 900,000 poor children.
Despite pledges during his “state of the state” speech Jan. 6 that he would not cut education, the governor proposes to adjust state funding formulas so payments to schools will be lower by $2.4 billion.
Medi-Cal (state Medicaid) benefits would be slashed while poor patients would pay more in premiums and co-pays, and benefits would end for documented immigrants in the country less than five years.
Prison health care would be cut by $811 million.
The governor’s budget proposals represent a 3.7 percent drop over last year and a 19 percent drop from three years ago, despite the state’s growing population.
Anticipating the direction of the governor’s message, a coalition of organizations representing Californians impacted by the proposed cuts held rallies at the governor’s offices around the state, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Modesto, Bakersfield and Fresno.
In San Francisco, dozens of demonstrators brought together by California Partnership, Health Access and other organizations marched and chanted, “Kindergarten cop! You’d better stop targeting welfare to balance the budget.” They carried placards reading “Child care keeps California working,” and “Choose a budget where families come first!” Some held pictures of Schwarzenegger, bearing the caption, “Wanted – For targeting poor children with state budget cuts!”
Single parent Libah Sheppard, a student at San Francisco City College, told the protesters she now lives on $566 a month. “If they continue to cut,” she said, “I’m not going to get to continue my education, and my child will not have child care. More children will be on the street, it’s going to put us more in a homeless situation.”
Sheppard, a member of Lifetime (Low Income Families’ Empowerment through Education) emphasized that she wants to work and “be productive in society.” But, she said, she needs help in order to do that. She called on Schwarzenegger to “Stop these cuts on the backs of the poor, the children, the elders who have made this country what it is, on the backs of the disabled.”
Following Schwarzenegger’s budget message, Jean Ross, head of the California Budget Project, said in a statement, “The governor’s proposed budget will batter a struggling economy and make life tougher for millions of families already struggling in the face of double-digit unemployment rates.” California needs a balanced approach to its budget crisis that includes new revenues and additional federal aid, she said.
But in fact, besides the governor’s failure to propose new taxes, such proposals by majority Democratic legislators have been thwarted for decades by the state’s requirement of a two-thirds majority to pass new taxes and budgets.
It’s starting out an unhappy New Year.