This past week Governor Jerry Brown gave his first State of the State speech. It was only 14 minutes long but to the point. The State faces a $25 billion shortfall and ongoing deficits of over $20 billion every year through 2016 at least. There are no easy fixes. It will take deep cuts, it will take taxes, but most importantly it will take a bipartisan effort. As Brown stated: “This is not the time for politics as usual. The stakes are too high.”
The stakes are high indeed. For years under the leadership of Arnold Schwar-zenegger, past budgets had been long drawn out affairs with each new budget taking longer than the last to pass. Budgets have been pushing the deficit off until subsequent years, kicking the can down the road. Budget negotiations ended up taking so long they would interfere with the legislators’ junkets, but undeterred, our elected officials would take their junkets while the State and its people suffered during many trying times.
This year, getting a budget passed on time has to be the first order of business! This cannot be done without a bipartisan effort.
Governor Brown’s budget proposal, while short on details, did outline a strategy which appears to be a practical approach. That’s probably why both the Democrats and Republicans are unhappy.
First Brown is asking for over $12.5 billion in cuts in State general fund spending, including $1.7 billion cuts in Medi-Cal, $500 million reductions in state general funding for In-Home Supportive Services, $1.5 billion in cuts to the CalWORKS program, $750 million in cuts in State general fund spending to developmental services including regional center community-based services. These services are dear to the Democrats and impact the poor and minorities the greatest.
At the same time Brown is proposing $12 billion in new revenues by extending for five years temporary tax increases that are scheduled to expire this year. This is money that would be used to maintain the current levels of funding for education. The Governor wants to put this tax proposal before the voters with a special election in June.
While the proposed budget is a dose of tough love it is toughest on the poor and minorities. All of the proposed cuts impact the poor, taking away their safety net, causing them to fall further into the shadows of poverty. And taxes are regressive on the poor and low-income as they continue to struggle, living week to week, month to month.
At the same time if a budget is passed that stabilizes the State’s economy and IF the economy continues to rebound, service cuts could be minimized and programs once cut could be restored.
The bottom line on the budget is that all of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, are going to have to give a little and move toward the center a bit to get a meaningful budget passed, a budget that begins to address the deficit. The days of partisan politics have to be put aside. To do less only means yet another long drawn out budget fight, which as in years past has proven, accomplishes little and only postpones the inevitable.