Budget impasse hurts millions of Californians

In twin votes whose results were widely predicted, California legislators Aug. 31 failed to pass slightly modified versions of a Republican budget proposal based on slashing human needs programs, or a proposal by Democratic legislators attempting to balance cuts with increased revenues.

California, which faces a $19 billion budget shortfall, is the only state to require a two-thirds legislative majority to pass a budget or to raise taxes. The Democrats’ majority falls short of that level, and Republicans, including the governor, refuse to consider any new taxes.

State Controller John Chiang has warned for weeks that he will have to issue IOUs to pay bills, if the budget remains unresolved much longer.

With the state budget now more than two months overdue, programs affecting millions of Californians face a double-whammy: delays in funding until the budget is finalized, and uncertainty about what funding they will ultimately receive.

A quick survey of news reports gives a snapshot of the stalemate’s impact.

• In San Diego County, some 100 nonprofit community health facilities are no longer receiving funds for several programs serving low-income people including children. A contingency fund is now exhausted. One community clinic director, whose facility relies on Medi-Cal (state Medicaid) for a third of its funding, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that if the impasse continues much longer, some clinics will have to close. Around the state, about 1,000 community clinics and similar facilities are being deprived of half or more of their operating budgets.

• The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) said that if no budget were in place by the end of August, “transportation fund cash balances may be depleted, resulting in potential suspension of ongoing construction projects.” CalTrans listed 64 different projects throughout the state that would be impacted, including several it identified as urgent.

• Health testing at beaches is at its lowest level since testing became law over a decade ago. The Los Angeles Times said 40 percent of beaches in Long Beach, which has some of the state’s most polluted water, are no longer being tested, while monitoring of other area beaches has been drastically curtailed. Though some officials say better treatment of runoff and wastewater has reduced the need for tests, others including public health and tourism officials are expressing concern.

• As August ended, Monterey County supervisors were adding up state funds the county is owed and trying to figure out how to collect. “If the state gets a budget and we get paid, fine,” Supervisor Lou Calcagno told thecalifornian.com. “But the public should know that the county’s money is being used on a daily basis by the state of California. We’re not being reimbursed and it’s getting to be a serious issue.”

• Hundreds of child care centers serving low-income working families across the state also face a cutoff of funds until a budget is signed.

• In Yolo County, in the Central Valley, some drug treatment facilities have already missed several months of payments. Some have had to release patients before they completed treatment. Area Assemblymember Mariko Yamada warned in a statement that the delays can result in the need for more expensive emergency room care. “People are literally dying for a budget,” she said.

• Top officials of the University of California, California State University and community college systems are no longer receiving state funds. Community colleges, short some $400 million, are borrowing to pay expenses, the CSU system is paying expenses from student fees, and UC says it may have to cut the number of students it serves.

Photo: An anti-cuts demonstration in San Francisco in June. (PW/Marilyn Bechtel)



Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.