Monday, January 26, 2009

Balancing The California Budget On The Backs Of Those Who Can Least Afford It

Legislators signal $6 billion in budget cuts

Both parties appear to be willing to reduce funding for public schools, colleges, transit programs and programs that help a wide range of people with special needs.

Although lawmakers continue to argue over how to resolve the state's fiscal crisis, they already have endorsed $6 billion in spending cuts that provide a painful preview of what is likely to be in store for Californians.

The proposed cuts would mean that money for the state's university systems would decrease. Transportation and schools would take a hit. Funds for regional centers that help treat developmental disabilities in babies and toddlers would decline. Cash to help the elderly, blind and disabled keep up with rising food costs would be slashed.

None of these cuts has been enacted. But the fact that they were included in the fiscal plan that Democrats passed last month -- and have been separately backed by Republicans -- ensures that they will be at the top of the list when lawmakers finally decide how to bridge a budget gap projected to exceed $40 billion within a year and a half.......

Ismael Maldonado, a 20-year old from Pacoima who has glaucoma and asthma, said he may have to skimp on medications if lawmakers cut his grant. 

The last time he did that, he said, "I ended up in the hospital emergency room" -- an expense the state's Medi-Cal program had to pick up.........

Both political parties have endorsed a plan to save $107 million through 3% reductions in payments to programs that help Californians live with cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy and mental retardation. These programs, delivered through 21 regional centers, assisted 230,000 people last year, said Bob Baldo, executive director of the Assn. of Regional Center Agencies. 

They provide diagnosis and early intervention for infants and toddlers with signs of development disabilities. These centers also provide rides for adults with developmental disabilities to day programs, provide them places to live and line up employment for them.

Baldo said the cuts are likely to mean that therapists working with children in schools will face larger caseloads, potentially reducing the time they can spend with each child. He said the cuts may be enough to force some providers of these services out of business........

More than $277 million would be cut from a program to fund long overdue maintenance in school buildings, including some scheduled "emergency repairs." Plans by many districts to fix leaky roofs, cracked sidewalks and broken heating systems would have to be put off another year. 

Money for the neediest students would be cut, as would programs to further the professional development and training of teachers. Nearly $110 million set aside for districts to preserve art and music programs would also be on the chopping bock.

State funding to train faculty in how to best teach math and reading skills would also be reduced, as would subsidies available to districts that provide after-school child care. And a program initiated to get high-speed Internet access in every district is endangered. Some schools are still using dial-up technology. 

The education reductions erode "the foundation schools are built upon," said Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for hundreds of school districts. .......

The state universities would be faced with tens of millions of dollars more in cuts after already scaling back operations in recent months. Earlier this month, the University of California announced it would eliminate 2,300 freshman slots for Californians in the coming budget year. The total number of freshmen admitted will be reduced from 37,600 to 35,300.

"The lack of sufficient state funding leaves us no choice," UC President Mark G. Yudof said when the reduction was announced Jan. 14.......

"We are risking our long-term economic competitiveness as well as denying students the ability to attend college," said Jean Ross, director of the California Budget Project, a nonprofit Sacramento research group that aims to help low- and middle-income people.

A college education, she said, "is the best guarantee of a job that brings with it sufficient income to support a family."

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