by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — Faced with a $14 billion deficit this coming fiscal year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Jan. 10, Thursday, unveiled a budget that would impact poor and low-income California families, shut down 48 parks and popular State beaches, release nonviolent prison inmates before they finish serving their time, and increase car registration fees for a second straight year in a row.
“Budget cuts aren’t the only answers to a budget deficit. We need a budget that helps everybody in California, not just one segment of our society,” declared Nancy Berlin, a director of California Partnership at a press conference held on Thursday morning at the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. “A budget that takes care of low-income people; that helps struggling families, and that does not leave children behind.”
The budget blueprint for fiscal year 2008 is projected to be the harshest since Schwarzenegger was first elected in 2003. It will include a number of spending reductions that would affect people across the State. School spending would be cut by about $3 billion. Welfare payments for tens of thousands of children where families are considered to be at high risk for homelessness would be eliminated.
The cost of living increase for the elderly, the blind, and the disabled receiving State assistance would be cancelled as would State-funded dental visits for the poor. The cuts are described as so deep that some officials in Sacramento are already dismissing the plan as ruse to stir up public demand for a tax hike to enable the governor to go back on his pledge not to raise taxes.
Safety net grants intended for children whose parents do not meet requirements of the state’s welfare program would be eliminated, as would grants for the children of some legal and illegal immigrants.
“It looks like the governor is not doing anything new,” said Berlin of California Partnership, a coalition of more than 150 organizations that is fighting poverty in the state. “He is just bringing out the same cuts, targeting the same low-income families that have taken the brunt of cuts for the last three years. There has to be a more responsible and fair way to balance the budget than to keep going after low-income children.”
“There are other revenues that can support our budget,” Berlin offered. “There are corporations in California that pay no income taxes. All of California’s corporations ought to be participating in our budget problems,” Berlin said.
No multi-billion dollar tax increases are in the State government’s plan, officials close to the governor said. The budget proposal offers Schwarzenegger vision of how to bring the budget into balance without new revenues.
State beaches and parks to close
As part of the budget cuts, Bolsa Chica, Will Rogers, San Clemente, Carlsbad and San Onofre State beaches would all be closed to visitors. Topanga and Mt. San Jacinto State parks would be shut down, and lifeguards and other seasonal staff would be laid off.
While it is estimated to save $13 million, lawmakers might consider user fee increases as an alternative to closing parks and beaches, opined state Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland). “I know a lot of people think parks should be free, but we seem to be well beyond that point in California, and most of us would agree that classroom education is more important than state park admissions,” Perata added.
Educators fight back
Protest had begun even before the budget was released. School groups are already readying a campaign to fight the cuts, including voter-approved formula that guarantee schools about 40 percent of State revenue. The organizations are planning to air advertisements that would call on the public to resist the cuts. Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, called the school funding cuts “outrageous.”
“Schools didn’t cause this budget problem,” Wells said. “The governor and lawmakers binged in other spending in good years and want to purge school spending in bad years. That is not fair.”
“The cuts would make it harder for me to finish school,” said Angelica Ceballos, a single mother with a disabled child. I would need another five years to finish school, and right now I can hardly pay for my bills,” Ceballos said. “A budget is supposed to reflect what is important to us. The real budget emergency is that families are becoming homeless and can’t put food on the table,” Ceballos added.
Justice short changed
The criminal justice proposal that is expected to generate opposition is the possible early release of as many as 22,000 nonviolent offenders. Under that plan, the state would also stop monitoring tens of thousands of parolees.