If California’s budget, now stalled since July 1, isn’t resolved by the end of the Labor Day holiday, it will set a dismal new record.

In the longest previous delay, a budget was finally passed on Sept. 1, 2002, and signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis on Sept. 5.

Organizations serving hundreds of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable residents — seniors, mentally and physically disabled children and adults — are increasingly hamstrung by the current delay. Marty Omoto, director/organizer of the California Disability Community Action Network, said on californiaprogressreport.org this week that the delay is causing “havoc and uncertainty” among all such organizations, with some now needing to cut services or even to close.

A conference committee addressed the $15.2 billion shortfall in the state’s $101 billion general fund weeks ago, with a compromise budget featuring higher taxes for the very wealthy and the corporations, as well as cuts. But with California the only state requiring a two-thirds majority both to pass a budget and to raise taxes, the Democratic majority in the Legislature still can’t overrule their Republican colleagues, who have locked arms against any tax hike.

While the stalled compromise would roll back some of the harshest cuts Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed earlier this year, educators and health care providers worry about those that remain, and are deeply concerned that vital programs may be cut even further.

“Having already seen legislators slash more than $2 billion from school funding, the governor now proposes to cut an additional $1 billion,” Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, pointed out, also on californiaprogressreport.org. “We education leaders are left with the bitter pill of calling for adoption of the Democratic conference committee budget, which reduces education funding by $2.4 billion. Talk about bad choices.”

While the conference committee budget restored many cuts, nearly 300,000 children would still lose health coverage, the Health Access coalition said this week. “As the budget debate drags on, and Republicans refuse to agree to increased revenues to fund our state’s basic needs, more lives will be on the line,” Hanh Kim Quach wrote on the coalition’s web site. “There have been rumored mutterings of more cuts, meaning more children will be unable to get eyeglasses, teeth cleanings and basic health services that would keep them healthy for years to come.”

The needs are sure to grow. This week the California Budget Project said median income in the state dropped 2 percent in 2007 over the previous year, and residents with incomes below the poverty line rose slightly, to 12.7 percent. Meanwhile, the state’s unemployment rate reached 7.3 percent in July, the highest in 12 years.

“What low- and middle-income Californians gained in 2006, they began to lose in 2007, and they’re likely to continue to lose in 2008,” CBP’s deputy director, Alissa Anderson, said. “The current downturn points to the importance of having a strong safety net in place for families to rely on during tough economic times.”

An interesting question: With all Assembly members and half the state Senate up for election in November, will the Republicans really want to be tagged as the villains in the budget tangle?

mbechtel @ pww.org