California has a new budget, and it even came in on time for a change. Cause for cheers? Maybe, but only if you don’t get into the fine print. As often happens, the devil is in the details. And this is quite a bunch of devils.
Let’s start with what we will have under the budget deal passed by the big Democratic majorities in the state Senate and Assembly and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
We will have the assumption that $4 billion in tax revenues not expected as recently as January will come in over the next year. That figuring is based on two months of higher-than-expected intake by the state during April and May. Given California’s slow-to-nonexistent recovery from recession, expecting the windfall to continue indefinitely is quite an assumption. If good times don’t roll, then a bunch of tentative cuts would supposedly be triggered automatically. And if that happens, expect it also to trigger lawsuits, protests, and political attempts to revoke or lessen the cuts.
So we don’t have much, even if Brown says the new spending plan will resolve at least three-fourths of the estimated $20 billion deficit he inherited from Arnold Schwarzenegger. The inept Arnold never stood a chance of getting Democrats to sign off on the kind of cuts Brown okayed both in March and June.
We also now have a tax cut: The increased (beyond early 2009 levels) vehicle license fees and sales and income tax boosts Brown wanted to extend have instead died. That should save the average family anywhere from $268 to $1,000 per year, depending on whose estimate you believe. This is cause for rejoicing by car dealers, who now can knock $200 off the net price of a $20,000 vehicle.
Then there’s what we won’t have, starting with a special election to decide whether those 2009 tax boosts should be extended. Had they been extended – which may still happen via ballot initiative in November 2012 – many provisional cuts that may be triggered in January would not be in prospect.
There’s plenty else we also won’t have. For example, more than one-third of all teenagers enrolled in California public schools won’t be having any physical education classes. Cuts to PE programs under the budgets passed the last two years reduced the portion of 17-year-olds taking PE to just 23 percent. If the possible January cuts occur, the number would go even lower.
We won’t have the use of dozens of state parks – maybe as many as 70 – that will be shuttered for lack of maintenance funds.
We won’t have much adult education, which means efforts to assimilate new legal immigrants by teaching them English will slow considerably. With about one-fourth of all California adults lacking basic English literacy skills (the number comes from the National Center for Educational Statistics), extreme cuts in adult education will also relegate many thousands of citizens to perpetual unemployment or menial work. Adult education cuts are in part the result of a 2009 law letting school boards move around funds formerly spent on things like adult education, vocational education and classes for highly gifted students. Much of that money has been used to reduce the number of teacher layoffs in mainstream elementary and high school programs.
We also will have much less electronic monitoring of parolees with GPS tracking devices. Budget cuts forced down the number of monitored paroled gang members from 950 earlier this year to 400 as of July 1.
Plus, anti-gang and anti-drug trafficking efforts by police have been lopped by $71 million. This, complained Attorney General Kamala Harris, “will cripple our…operations. These cuts will eliminate many, if not all, of the (50) anti-gang task forces and jeopardize many ongoing investigations.”
So we will have more gang crime and we will have more drug dealing in our streets.
The poorest among us will also have less. With welfare spending sliced by $1 billion, monthly aid to needy families of three fell from $694 to $638 per month. The $56 cut means less food and clothing, soap, shampoo – less of everything for people who already have next to nothing. Sure, there are some welfare cheats who occasionally get publicity, but the vast majority of recipients really are needy, and they just got needier.
This comes after cuts in previous years had already closed many mental health clinics and slashed the Healthy Families initiative that gave health care to about 1 million children at its peak.
Some college and university students will also have a harder time paying tuition and fees, atop already having to pay large increases in those charges and seeing many fewer course offerings. At UCLA, where many students pay by credit card, a 2.75 percent fee will be added to bills of anyone paying that way. That’s to save the school $6 million a year, which it will use to keep some academic programs going.
Altogether, the new budget makes California a far meaner place than before. That’s not exactly what Brown promised while campaigning at this time last year, but it’s what we’ve got now.