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Eliminate vs. reduce


Sacramento, CA — People who want to let the legislature know about what budget cuts should or should not be made, will need to submit their comments within the next week because, according to Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, decisions about how to close a $21.3 billion gap will be made swiftly.

“Closing a $21 billion deficit is gong to be extremely challenging and down right frightening,” said the Speaker. “The governor is proposing elimination of a number of programs, that in my opinion are vital for those most vulnerable.”

Bass said the programs targeted for elimination by Arnold Schwarzenegger include CalWorks as well as its support services such as childcare, domestic violence counseling, drug treatment and more. The Speaker noted that the additional cuts in education the governor is suggesting could result in the lay-off of 70,000 or more teachers.

Already, local school districts are cutting back or eliminating summer school classes.

The governor has also proposed eliminating Prop. 36 funding, which provides alternative sentencing for people with substance abuse problems, and he is proposing that an estimated 225,000 children would be eliminated from the state’s Healthy Families Program. That would mean that a child whose family is 200 to 250% below the federal poverty level would no longer be eligible for the low-cost insurance at all.

That would put these families back to relying on employer-sponsored programs, community clinics and county hospitals and emergency rooms.

Currently there are more than 910,000 youth ages 19 and younger who are provided medical, dental and health insurance under this program, and according to a report by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, another 855,000 young people in the state have no health insurance.

While acknowledging that the ax is falling hardest on social programs and disproportionately on African Americans, who rely heavily on these programs, Bass pointed out that is where the majority of state spending goes. “Education is 40% of the budget; another 20% is social services, and health care is a whole other area.”

The choices are stark and simple, said Bass: either eliminate entire programs or make cuts.

The Assembly leader said, the focus is going to be on preserving programs, and any cuts must be in place by July 1, or the state will run out of money to pay its bills. This will mean that vendors will not get paid, and instead of getting a tax return, residents will get an IOU.

“One of the things about the cuts is they are going to hurt anyway you look at it . . . We need to do them as soon as possible, because if we wait, we may have to cut even deeper,” Bass warned.

While it seems impossible to see any good news in the situation, Bass said that because a budget has already been passed, Democrats do not necessarily need Republicans to close the deficit, which should make the process much quicker.

Additionally, the need to slash spending may very well force needed structural changes in programs like parole.

“. . . We may be able to stop incarcerating people for technical violations (missing an appointment or a dirty drug test etc.) and only re-incarcerate, if they commit a crime.”

In addition to cuts, the governor and legislature are looking at bringing in revenue by “borrowing” from local governments. That could mean cities, counties and school districts might receive fewer dollars back from property taxes and other such regular payments.