Legislative leader to sue Calif. governor over cuts

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, announced Aug. 7 that he will sue Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger over nearly $500 million in line-item cuts the governor made last week in signing a budget revision bill that had already made huge cuts mostly to human needs programs.

“We elected a governor, not an emperor,” Steinberg said in a statement. “In making these line item vetoes the governor forced punishing cuts on children, the disabled and patients that he couldn’t win fairly at the bargaining table. And in doing so, he overstepped his constitutional authority.”

Steinberg said he planned to file the lawsuit, to be called “Steinberg v. Schwarzenegger, in San Francisco Superior Court early next week. He said he would use his campaign funds to pay for the lawsuit.

On Aug. 5, the non-partisan Legislative Counsel Bureau issued a opinion asserting that most of the $489 million in cuts were illegal. Many of the last-minute cuts were aimed at health care and other social services which had already been devastated in earlier budgets including the recent revision.

Legislative Democrats had requested the Bureau’s review. In a radio address on Aug. 1, Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, contended the governor’s line-item veto “only applies to new appropriations,” and not to the legislature’s action in cutting spending that had previously been approved.

Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine concluded that the governor exceeded his authority in making the last-minute cuts to previously-enacted items that the legislature had reduced in the revised budget.

Meanwhile, teachers and school workers were taking their anger over the continuing onslaught of cuts to the streets.

In San Jose Aug. 5, some 2,000 California School Employees Association members from around the state gathered with parents, students, labor and community supporters to protest the slashed funding for education, and to call on state legislators to “stand up to the governor and step up for California.”

“It’s shameful that now, after another round of devastating budget cuts, we will now be known as the only state in the country that gives tax breaks to oil companies while imposing devastating cuts on our grandparents and our school kids. We cannot cut our way into prosperity,” CSEA President Rob Feckner told the crowd.

Calling classified school workers “the backbone of public education,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said the cuts are having disastrous effects on working Californians.

At a hearing held in San Francisco Aug. 5 by the Assembly Select Committee on Schools and Community, United Educators of San Francisco executive vice president Linda Plack recalled a long history of underfunding the state’s schools that she said predated the recent severe budget crises.

“When we do not meet the needs of our most vulnerable with hope and opportunity, we assure the continuous pipeline to our prisons, where I understand we spend more per year per prisoner than we do for our students,” she said.

Anthony Wright, executive director of the over-200-organization Health Access coalition, called Schwarzenegger’s line-item cuts “jaw-dropping to many advocates for health and human services.”

He said the last-minute cuts to the Healthy Families program meant that coverage would be denied for over 900,000 children, including disenrolling “hundreds of thousands of kids, yanking their coverage away.” The line-item vetoes also “zeroed out” state funds for community clinics and preserved others “in name only,” he said.

The overall budget revision, he said, also severely cut prevention-oriented and core health programs, including mental health care, HIV/AIDS care, maternal and child health care, and “last-option” coverage for those rejected because of pre-existing conditions.

The only state requiring two-thirds legislative majorities to pass a budget and to raise taxes, California’s budget process has been hamstrung for years by Republican legislators’ refusal to approve any new revenues. The Democratic legislative majorities in both houses fail to reach that threshold. In the latest round of talks, Gov. Schwarzenegger also rejected any new revenues.