AS THE chair of the Senate Budget Subcommittee that oversees health and human services, I saw firsthand how cuts in social programs are going to affect Californians in need.
Hundreds of people testified that funding is needed for basic human care such as feeding, bathing, and administering medicine for those who cannot care for themselves. They personally begged me not to make these cuts. For them it was about protecting the most basic of human needs -- their lives and their dignity.
However, we have a substantial and historic budget gap to bridge. When the money is not there, and revenues aren't increased, deep and painful cuts are the only option available. Consequently, more than $6 billion was cut in the areas of health and human services, including serious reductions to developmental services. These cuts were the last resort.
Providing services to the developmentally disabled is the brainchild and legacy of Frank Lanterman. He was one of California's most vocal and colorful state legislators in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, serving 28 years in the Assembly. Lanterman was a champion for disability rights at a time when the developmentally disabled essentially had no rights, were locked up in institutions, and had no access to services.
At heart, Lanterman was a staunch fiscal conservative Republican, a business owner and a musician. He never set out to be a stalwart fighter for the underserved.
The developmentally disabled first caught his attention by seeking more funding. He knew that institutionalizing the developmentally disabled was fiscally imprudent. He also knew that such forced residency reduced their lives to merely enduring on a day-to-day basis. Or, with a little help they might thrive, live fully and contribute to society.
Consequently, he was able to relate to politicians on both sides of the aisle. Ultimately, he created the Lanterman Act, a model developmental disabilities law by which other states would eventually measure their services.
This year, the Lanterman Act faced historic cuts, potentially eliminating essential services to the developmentally disabled in need. In our hearings we were able to limit the cuts to only what was essential. However, if the voters are not given a choice before July 1st between continuing existing taxes or making deeper cuts, the Legislature will have no option but to make draconian cuts to services that at one time enjoyed bipartisan support.
Unfortunately, the days of bipartisan leaders like Frank Lanterman seem to be long gone. Today, many believe that doing the right thing for the right reason is antithetical to politics. I hope they are wrong.
I believe that California's elected leaders are for the most part well-intentioned, and I remain hopeful that we can reach consensus on what needs to be done. When one puts aside the rhetoric, pledges and posturing, it is clear that we need a budget that makes serious cuts and relies on fair taxes.
To bridge the budget gap, I believe we must first bridge the political gap. Following the legacy of Lanterman, by presenting the voters with the option of continuing to pay taxes at the current levels to avoid more severe cuts, is the conscientious thing to do.
Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, represents Contra Costa County in the state Legislature.