Calif. govs new leaf budget

Still trying to reinvent himself as a moderate, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a proposed $125.6 billion state budget Jan. 10 with more funds for transportation and education but with significant cuts for welfare recipients.

Schwarzenegger’s State of the State message called for a 10-year, $222 billion infrastructure program including $68 billion in new borrowing.

The budget would slash funds for CalWORKS welfare programs by nearly $200 million over two years. Cost of living increases for welfare recipients and for aged, blind and disabled people would be delayed.

The governor’s proposal would add $1.7 billion to constitutionally required funding for schools, cancel fee increases at state higher education institutions, and increase funds for health care for poor children.

Schwarzenegger also said that he would again request authority to make cuts in midyear if the budget goes out of balance, despite the decisive defeat of his ballot measure to that effect.

Criticism came quickly from both Democratic and Republican legislators.

The Democrats, who hold the majority in both the Assembly and Senate, “are holding firm to our core values,” said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles). Citing the proposed welfare cuts, Nunez added, “A rising tide should lift all boats … we believe that we can produce a budget that leaves no one behind.”

“Although the budget is fatter, any trimming has been done at the expense of the poor,” said Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton). Dymally, a Budget Committee member, pointed out that that besides the cut to CalWORKS, Schwarzenegger also wants to take back about $40 million the state had allocated for childcare services to welfare recipients.

On the other hand, conservative Republicans in the Legislature are expressing concern over the potential for cost increases of the infrastructure proposal. They say they will keep pushing for program cuts.

Nor do the proposed increases for education satisfy the education community. While the governor’s proposal “is a start,” California Teachers Association President Barbara Kerr said in a statement that California continues to rank near the bottom nationwide in per pupil spending.

Schwarzenegger’s efforts to turn over a new leaf haven’t boosted his standing with voters. A recent poll by the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University found that 48 percent of voters say they are less likely to vote for his re-election this year.