Commentary

The Budget and California’s Future

July 17, 2009

By Assembly Member Lori Saldaña

 With this year’s unprecedented drop in state revenues, policymakers were forced to confront the problem of preserving programs and services that the public values – like affordable higher education and state parks – using the extremely limited resources at our disposal.

 We recognize the need to reduce spending; however, we do not believe it is in the state’s best interests, either financially or morally, to eliminate entire programs.

 Our real-world job – the one the public expects policymakers to do – is to find a way to balance the budget, ensure the state’s economic recovery and financial health, and preserve programs and services Californians care about. A tough, but unavoidable prescription.

 In mid-June, the bi-partisan Legislative Conference Committee finished their proposal for the balancing the budget based on the realities of the global economic downturn and the long-term needs and aspirations of our constituents. 

 This proposal makes up for the nearly $20 billion state budget shortfall through a balance of cuts, revenues and other solutions. The Conference Committee has approached this process guided by a set of values shared among our members and by the majority of Californians who have asked us to lead. Those values include prioritizing state spending to create opportunity for all Californians and exercise compassion for our most vulnerable citizens.

 Applying these principals, we proposed a balanced budget that saves vital programs and restores some funding to education, social services and local government. We also set aside a healthy $4 billion rainy day reserve and ensured that California receives billions of federal relief dollars to reinvigorate the economy.

 Because of the bleak economic situation and a drastic drop in the state’s revenues, we were still forced to make $11.4 billion in spending cuts. Some of these were necessary to achieve long-overdue efficiencies in government; others were more painful and indicative of the difficult choices the state is confronted with.

 But we also found ways to save important programs the Governor had slated for elimination, including CalWorks, one of the most successful social service programs for eliminating dependence on social service programs; and Healthy Families, which keeps about a million of California’s children from joining the state’s uninsured and utilizing our already overcrowded hospital emergency rooms.

 We are at a crossroads in defining what kind of a state California wants to be.

 In forging a real-world budget amidst our current financial woes, we had to make difficult decisions. However, we believe the decisions we made, while painful, were responsible- both for the people of California and for the financial health of our state. 

 While we are faced with significant economic challenges, we do not believe the elimination of California’s system of parks, the social safety net, or the decimation of our educational system is necessary simply to weather this financial storm. We can, and will, recover.  And when we do, we will need those programs in place to provide opportunity for our children and care for seniors.

 I encourage readers to visit my website at www.asm.ca.gov/76 where I have posted a summary of the proposal along with other information on the budget. In addition, please click here to share your budget priorities with me.

Ms Saldaña represents the 76th Assembly District.

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