With a stroke of his pen Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made official what is perhaps the largest reduction in state services California has ever seen.
But before signing his name to the state's revised $85 billion budget, Schwarzenegger used his budget knife to deepen some of the cuts lawmakers approved last week, using his veto power to carve out another $656 million in spending reductions. Schwarzenegger's vetoes -- added to the more than $15 billion in cuts lawmakers approved Friday -- drew sharp condemnation from some.
”It's clearly a fundamental shift in what California will provide for its children, its seniors, its vulnerable and its disabled -- and that's frankly not very much,” said Humboldt County Health and Human Services Director Phillip Crandall. “It doesn't mean (those people) don't need the assistance or help, it just means we won't be providing it.”
Facing a $26.4 billion deficit, legislators approved a revised 2009-2010 budget late last week that agreed to unprecedented across-the-board cuts and a variety of borrowing, accounting tricks and gimmicks to put the state's finances back in the black.
But, after a marathon floor session, the Assembly rejected two of the 27 budget bills being considered -- one that would have borrowed transportation funding from local governments and another that would have allowed additional oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara. The failure of the two bills left a
The governor's vetoes included $80 million in cuts from child welfare programs; $61 million from county funding to administer Medi-Cal; $52 million from AIDS prevention and treatment; $50 million from Healthy Families; $27.8 million from the Williamson Act program; and $6.2 million more from state parks.
”Those are ugly cuts and I'm the only one that is really responsible for those cuts because the Legislature left, they didn't want to make those cuts,” Schwarzenegger said after signing the budget.
State Democrats -- many from on recess outside Sacramento -- wasted little time Tuesday condemning the governor for making the cuts and questioning their legality.
”I am angered by the governor's decision to make cuts to safety net programs that he agreed to support based on the negotiations that took place over the past few weeks up to last Friday morning's budget vote,” North Coast Sen. Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, said in a statement, adding that Schwarzenegger should have let legislators figure out how to bridge the $1.1 billion gap in the budget.
Wiggins said she and her colleagues will be forced in the coming months to make “budget corrections” because “the governor has decided to go after those who are most vulnerable and dependent on state assistance. My colleagues and I simply will not stand for that.”
North Coast Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass issued a scathing statement Tuesday, criticizing Schwarzenegger for targeting his budget cuts toward the state's most vulnerable people, and putting their lives in jeopardy, she said.
”It's a shame Gov. Schwarzenegger is so eager to tear down the safety net that he appears willing to break the law to do it,” Bass said, adding that she is asking the Legislative counsel to issue an opinion on the legality of Schwarzenegger's cuts. “The cuts the governor made today will have catastrophic effects on children, domestic abuse victims and seniors.”
The governor's veto brings the total funding cuts to In-home Supportive Services to $263.5 million.
”What that means is we have 300 clients, or 25 percent of our clients in Humboldt County, who will no longer be eligible,” Crandall said. “That's the human impact, which is very concerning to us.”
Crandall said the majority of the clients no longer eligible for the program will wind up in institutionalized care, with the state paying for many of them.
Schwarzenegger's additional $50 million in cuts to Healthy Families -- the state's low-cost health insurance program for children of the working poor -- will bring the total funding blow to almost $200 million, and likely will cripple the program, Crandall said.
”Basically, that system is so emaciated that it is, in effect, dying a slow death over this fiscal year,” Crandall said. “We'll be gradually disenrolling children of working families as they come up for review.”
With 3,600 Humboldt County children enrolled in the program, Crandall said he doesn't know yet where the break-even point will be, and how many children will wind up without insurance. Crandall said the state's funding cuts will also result in a huge loss of money from the federal government, which he said pays 66 percent of the program costs on a matching-funds basis.
But the vetoes don't stop there, as Crandall pointed out that the governor's cuts to AIDS prevention and treatment programs, domestic violence support and shelter, tobacco control and maternal and child health programs will all impact the North Coast.
”This will cost the state more,” Crandall said, explaining that he thinks any short-term savings in this budget will be eclipsed by ballooning costs down years down the line. “You don't restructure a health care system in the context of partisan politics and expect to get good results.”
The governor also axed Williamson Act program funding by $27.8 million, leaving a token budget of $1,000, which could impact the look of the North Coast.
Katherine Ziemer with the Humboldt County Farm Bureau said that the Williamson Act, which offers tax benefits to landowners to keep land in agricultural production, is critical, especially to ranchers in outlying areas. Without those tax benefits, she said, many will have trouble riding out tough years.
”It's keeping our agricultural community productive and viable,” Ziemer said.
As frustrations seemed to grow Tuesday in the Capitol as the weight of the governor's vetoes -- and the budget deal as a whole -- sunk in, Crandall said he's not worried about the state's shrinking government.
”Government will survive -- we're just not so sure about those it serves,” Crandall said, saying there's no question the state's budget puts lives at risk. “We'll just have to do our best with the resources available.”
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or email@example.com