Thursday, October 14, 2010

Governor’s Unconscionable Budget Vetoes Harm Low-Income Children

Our failed governor is well-known for commuting to the Capitol from his gated mansion in Santa Monica via private jet. Clearly, given his wealth and life-style, he is completely out of touch with the need for child care for ordinary working Californians, as well as the need for protection for vulnerable abused or diabled children.

When signing this year’s belated budget, the governor vetoed nearly $1 billion. True to form, he focused the pain on vulnerable women and children. And, again true to form, he immediately fled the scene of the crime, jetting off to London and other places so he wouldn’t have to face an angry and irate citizenry and Legislature.

The governor’s list of unconscionable budget vetoes includes:

$80 million from Child Welfare Services. This cut means at least 700 social workers will be lost. That will leave 143,000 reports of child abuse or neglect uninvestigated and prevent the reunification of thousands of foster youth with their families. It also means California will lose millions in matching federal funds, bringing the total loss to this program to $133.5 million.
$132 million from mental health services for students. Thousands of children with disabilities and mental health needs will be denied help, including children with autism spectrum disorders, children with other developmental disabilities, and mental health needs. The governor is dumping the responsibility to provide care onto the schools.
$256 million from child care. This absurd, costly and mean-spirited cut eliminates child care for low-income parents who have left welfare and entered the workforce. Without subsidized childcare, these workers will have to stop working so they can look after their children, thus moving them back onto welfare. This cut will end up costing the state even more because 60,000 families - including 81,000 children – will go back to receiving monthly assistance grants under CalWORKS.

Last year the governor’s vetoes included funding for the Black Infant Health program, jeopardizing the lives and well-being of hundreds of California babies. Thank goodness this is his last budget—we really wouldn’t want to see how much lower he could go.

Speaker Perez and President Pro Tempore Steinberg have both committed to restoring these funds as soon as we have a new governor. As incoming Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, I join them in this commitment.

Friday, October 8, 2010

24 Pieces to the State Budget Puzzle

The comprehensive budget agreement passed by the Legislature includes 23 bills and a proposed constitutional amendment that will go before the voters in November of 2012. An analysis of the budget package is available here and information about each individual item in the budget, including votes, are available here.

The list of each item in the budget package – including the primary budget bill, budget trailer bills, and items negotiated as part of the budget agreement – is as follows:

Primary Budget Bill – SB 870
Education Trailer Bill – AB 1610
Suspension of Proposition 98 – SB 851
Human Services Trailer Bill – AB 1612
Health Trailer Bill – SB 853
Transportation Trailer Bill – SB 854 (Failed passage in the Senate)
Natural Resources Trailer Bill – SB 855
General Government Trailer Bill – SB 856
Judiciary Trailer Bill – SB 857
Revenues – SB 858
Elections – AB 1619
Budget Reform Constitutional Amendment – ACA 4
Public Works Board Trailer Bill – AB 1620
FI$CAL Trailer Bill– AB 1621
Redevelopment and Williamson Act – SB 863
Cash Management – AB 1624
CalPERS Transparency – SB 867
Public Safety Trailer Bill – AB 1628
Department of Developmental Services Trailer Bill – AB 1629
Small Businesses Stimulus – AB 1632
Reimbursement of State Mandates – SB 866
Medi-Cal Waiver – SB 208
Service and Volunteering – AB 10 x6
Pension Reform – SB 22 x6

Finally, the Budget Waiting Game Ends

California is poised to have a bipartisan budget agreement adopted that is historic for all of the wrong reasons. 100 days into the current fiscal year, this tough budget is the latest in state history. Details are available here.

Two factors forced Californians into this record waiting game: the governor’s failed leadership and the dysfunction of the two-thirds voting requirement to pass a budget in California.

The negotiating environment this year began with the Democrats’ rejection of the proposal shared by the governor and Republicans to balance the budget through cuts that eliminate jobs and safety net programs like CalWORKS, childcare, Adult Day Healthcare, and In-Home Supportive Services. As noted on this blog, this would do more than impose a hardship on working families and vulnerable Californians. It would end lives, especially among women and children who rely more on the safety net. The budget delay was further fueled by the governor’s lack of interest in negotiating with the Legislature. He went to China instead.

But when it comes to the substance of the FY 2010-2011 budget, it reflects the painful compromises that inevitably result from our rigid and outdated procedural rules. In our third year of recession, and after confronting $40 billion worth of deficits last year, no easy options were available to close this year’s $17.9 billion gap. This is equivalent to about 20 percent of our General Fund. And, making matters worse, fewer options were politically feasible because of our two-thirds budget vote requirement.

This dynamic prevented us from considering fair new revenue sources like an Oil Severance Tax. Consequently, solutions to our budget gap rely on a mix of cuts, revenue shifts, and increased federal funds. The largest single area of solutions came from cuts, at approximately 40 percent.

In this budget discussion, my chief concern was that we continue making important investments in our society. Our challenge was to preserve the institutions that shape our quality of life from reckless cuts. We can take pride in the following highlights of this budget that we fought for:
• Protecting 430,000 jobs that the governor’s proposals would have eliminated;
• Protecting school funding by providing over $2 billion more than the governor’s proposals;
• Fully funding the CSU and UC system, and protecting CalGrant scholarships from elimination as proposed by the governor in January;
• Protecting our safety net services from elimination;
• Fully funding health care for a million children through Healthy Families; and
• Restoring funding for domestic violence shelter funding and mammogram access for 100,000 women that the governor eliminated.

Is this budget perfect? No. But it does include some good that was worth fighting and waiting for.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Enough is Enough on Budget

A group of Democratic women legislators rallied with impacted women and grassroots supporters at the State Capitol yesterday, calling on the governor to stop targeting women, children, and students with the pain of cuts to balance the budget. We also urged the governor to postpone his trip to China and stay in the state until a fair and responsible budget is enacted. My remarks follow.

"Thank you and welcome, everyone. Today, California enters its 70th day without a budget. As we stand here today, California is days away from having the latest budget in its history.

We are here to say enough is enough. And, we are all here today with a message for the governor. Please, governor: respect the people of California. Don’t hold them hostage. Stop targeting women and children with the pain of cuts to balance the budget. And, postpone your trip to China. Stay in the state to work with the Legislature on a fair and balanced budget agreement. Right now, nothing is more important to the people of California.

Remember the John Lennon song “Imagine?” In the recent past, California imagined. Californians dreamed. And California acted on its dreams and made a brighter future come true.

We are here today to do more than imagine. We, the Democratic women of the CA State Legislature, are here to insist. And, typical of women, we don’t insist upon much. But we do insist upon some fundamentals in our state budget.

We insist upon decent education for our children. We insist upon higher education—community colleges and universities so our people can train for jobs and for the responsibilities of citizenship—an education that is sorely needed right now. We insist upon child care so small businesses can find workers and workers can hold down jobs. We insist upon health care for our mothers and our daughters.

We reject the Governor’s notion that we Californians can’t come together and solve this problem for all of us. We reject his divide and conquer strategy. We reject his shock doctrine. We reject his dead-end vision of a decayed state. We reject his notion that wealthy and powerful corporations must enjoy enormous new tax breaks while our children go uneducated and untended. That’s just shameful. As of today, we, the Democratic women of the CA State Legislature, will no longer stand for such nonsense.

No woman is a part of the Big 5 negotiations this year. We want the Big 5 to know where we stand.

Here’s our bottom line: Last year’s budget hit rock bottom. In order to earn our vote, the budget must improve California and get Californians back to work. In order to earn our vote, the budget must fund K-12 education and higher education at last year’s levels or more. It must fund child care and women’s health care such as Every Woman Counts at last year’s levels or higher. Others, I believe, share this bottom line, but I will let them speak for themselves.

As our Governor prepares to leave tomorrow for a business junket to Asia, we want him to know that we are not leaving. We are staying put.

We’re women—we give birth to, raise and believe in the next generation. We will not fail them. We stand for a budget that foresees a brighter day for our state and helps lay the groundwork for that brighter day."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We Sink or We Swim Together

As the defining institutions of this state crumble from the burden of massive and sustained budget cuts, our quality of life in California suffers. Today, when the Legislature debated the governor’s budget proposal and the Democrats’ budget proposal, the choice was between two starkly different visions for the future of our state.

After closing a $40 billion deficit last year, it’s reckless to argue – as my Republican colleagues do - that we can simply cut our way out of the $19 billion financial hole we face today. That would mean cutting another 20 percent of our General Fund, equal to the amount we spend on corrections and higher education combined.

It’s routinely said that the state must tighten its belt during these tough times just like California’s families are doing. But government is not a family. Government provides vital services that are the foundation on which our society’s peace and the prosperity of our families depend. If we fail to provide that foundation, what kind of society are we left with?

The governor’s vision of our future embodied in his budget proposal, abandons important California values. Do we want a future with fewer schools, larger classrooms and fewer teachers? Do we want a future where our roads are so riddled with potholes and traffic that businesses can’t move goods and services? Do we want a future without local police, where the California Highway Patrol does not patrol our highways, where parks close down and cities turn off street lights because they can’t pay the electric bill? Do we want to lay off more workers and increase our already historically harsh unemployment rate?

Of course not. Failing to make these investments in our state will do far more harm than good.

The Democratic vision is to reinvest in education, to provide the educated workforce all need to thrive. The Democratic vision provides child care so people can get to work throughout California. The Democratic vision protects our natural heritage and provides the regulation necessary to create a level playing field for businesses here in California. Our vision rejects the notion that California can no longer afford to work for a brighter tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Governor’s Hostage Crisis

While he holds the state budget hostage to meet his demands on the way out of office, our governor poses as the sole fiscally responsible adult in the Capitol. He speaks as if the Legislature is the only thing standing in the way of balancing our state budget and bringing us back to a sound economy.

Let’s take a serious look at what the governor says he wants to do and what would really happen if the Legislature stepped aside and let him do it.

The governor wants to “rein in state spending” with a spending cap, even though the voters soundly rejected his proposal twice during the past few years. In reality, a spending cap would destroy long-standing institutions like the University of California, California State Universities, community colleges, state parks, roads, bridges, highways, public safety, cities, counties and other vital services. The reason (which the governor never mentions) is that unless Proposition 98 is repealed, the voter mandated spending on K-12 becomes a budget PacMan, eating up virtually all revenues available under the cap. The voters rejected this proposal for good reasons.

The governor says he wants to control revenue swings. Sounds responsible. California is subject to wild swings in general fund revenues, depending on how well Wall Street is doing. Smoothing those out would enable us to better plan our budgets from year to year. But the governor’s proposal to adopt the Tax Commission’s recommendations has nothing to do with smoothing out revenues and everything to do with shifting the tax burden from wealthy individuals to poor and middle-class Californians, while benefiting out of state corporate employers.

The governor claims he wants to “reform” public employee pensions and this is so important that he won’t sign a budget until he gets his way. However, he fiddled during his 6 years in office while costs skyrocketed, hoping to force the Legislature into changing the law instead of bargaining within public employee unions. Indeed, this has little to do with saving the state money and everything to do with privatizing pensions and weakening public employee unions.

It’s the same old tired agenda which the voters rejected in the 2005 special election. But this time, the governor is holding the state hostage to do his will. He travels around the state talking to everyone BUT the Legislature all the while claiming he wants to make a deal with us.

Here’s the deal: Our state is on the verge of collapse. Just look at the economic devastation all around us. In some communities, the unemployment rate exceeds 30%. In some neighborhoods every other house has been foreclosed. Schools are shutting down, teachers are being laid off, classroom sizes are being increased, the school year is being shortened. Students can’t get into college and those that do get in can’t get the classes they need to graduate. Once they graduate, they can’t find a job. And the list goes on….

For the past several decades, the argument has been that if we cut taxes, jobs will be created and our economy will expand. Well, we’ve been cutting taxes for the past 30-some years and now we are seeing the truth. The state has been living off the previous generation’s investments, we have failed to plan for our own generation’s needs and the needs of the next generation. We have no reserve to fall back on during tough times. People who continue to believe this canard are deluded. People who continue to repeat it are manipulating or engaging in magical thinking.

The destruction now happening is not random. It is happening as a result of very real decisions being made by real people, both at the federal and state level. I, for one, refuse to enable this economic devastation any longer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Public Education in Crisis

Public education is at the heart of our society’s pursuit of equality. But a new report from the California Budget Project shows that California’s K-12 public education system is in crisis.

California is winning a race to the bottom and our children are paying the price. The report finds that, when compared to other states, California ranks:
• 50th in student to teacher ratios, with 21.3:1 compared to a national average of 13.8:1
• 49th in student to guidance counselor ratios, with 809:1 compared to a national average of 440:1
• 46th in student to school administrator ratios, with 358:1 compared to a national average of 216:1
• 46th in education spending as a percentage of personal income, and
• 44th in spending per student, with $8,826 spent per student compared to a national average of $11,372

Unfortunately for our children, in the context of our $19.1 billion deficit, California could soon place 50th in all categories. The governor and Republican legislators are refusing to discuss revenue alternatives. Their cuts-based approach to closing our budget gap inevitably places a huge target on K-12 education because it is the largest single expenditure from our General Fund.

But California is spending less on education now than it has in 40 years. And, our public education system is tasked with educating more students than any other state, with a disproportionate number coming from low-income families. It also has the highest number of English-learning students in the US.

As ongoing negotiations move towards a budget agreement, a responsible combination of budget cuts and new revenues must rule the day. If we can’t make some additional sacrifices for the future of our state’s children, then this crisis will become not only a budget crisis, but a moral one.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Budget Facts vs. the Governor’s Fiction

As discussed on this blog, the governor has painted a creative picture of our economic woes to suit his ideological budget agenda. But we can get past his spin to the substance of the challenges we face by looking at how California compares with other states.

The Federal Reserve of San Francisco recently issued such a report reviewing the economic and fiscal crises befalling the 50 states. It is a helpful assessment of where we’ve been and when we are likely to see economic improvement.

The most obvious cause of California’s economic crisis is the profound macroeconomic shock that hit all the states, not to mention much of the rest of the world. According to the report, the recent recession was one of the sharpest economic contractions in U.S. history. Nationwide, real GDP fell by 3.8% while non-farm employment fell by 6.1%, or about 8.4 million jobs, from peaks registered around the start of the recession until they bottomed out. The unemployment rate more than doubled, from 5% at the beginning of the recession to a high of 10.1% in October 2009. However, states like California had greater exposure to the housing downturn. Therefore, we suffered more dramatic economic decline.

With historic economic decline comes great budget challenges. The combined budget gap states faced heading into fiscal year 2009 was $110 billion, around 15% of total state general fund budgets. The gap heading into fiscal 2010 was $200 billion, or roughly 30% of general funds.

Some states are worse off than others. The report cites California as one of the worst off, mainly because of our 2/3 vote requirement for budgets and taxes. The report compares California and Oregon:
“Leading up to fiscal year 2009, which began on July 1, 2009, California had a budget gap of 37%, while Oregon’s gap was just 7%, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. What explains the difference? To gauge the severity of the economic shock state by state, we ask what would each state’s 2009 gap have been if they had kept per capita expenditures constant from 2007 onward as revenue fell. It turns out that Oregon’s and California’s budget gaps would have been roughly the same, around 20%. However, Oregon in 2008 curtailed expenditure growth, enacted some notable tax increases, and tapped into its rainy-day fund to reduce its budget gap. On the other hand, California saw expenditure growth barely slow at all, enacted only limited tax increases, and had nothing in its rainy-day fund coming into the recession. Much of California’s limited policy response reflected institutional constraints on the ability of lawmakers to change fiscal policy. For instance, tax increases in California must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the legislature, and voter propositions approved in the past greatly limit the legislature’s ability to curtail spending growth in many areas.” (Emphasis mine.)

The Federal Reserve believes states will not see much economic improvement for quite some time. Citing estimates from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the report says that significant state budget gaps will likely persist through at least 2012. And, the Federal Reserve believes fiscal conditions are likely to get worse before they get better as the federal stimulus diminishes in 2011 and ends in 2012. Making things worse, California has borrowed and used smoke and mirrors to balance our budget, and recent judicial decisions have rendered some budget cuts and fund shifts off limits.

As negotiations continue for a budget solution in California, let’s not forget this conclusion from the Federal Reserve:
“The solutions states employ to close projected budget gaps will have painful effects on state residents and businesses but pose a more modest risk to the national recovery. Historically, the health of the national economy determines the health of state finances, not the other way around. Sustained improvement in the national economy is essential for states to grow their way out of their current problems and improve their fiscal conditions.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Destruction of Our Schools

Because we have been unable to deal realistically with the cost of our state’s basic needs, 174 of our state’s public school districts are now facing fiscal crisis, up from only 22 before this recession began in 2006-07. These are the school districts that are unable to meet their financial needs over a 2-3 year period. State School Superintendent Jack O’Connell says that over the past 2 years, schools have received $17 billion less in funding than they had anticipated.

As we sow, so shall we reap.

Schools have taken a battering during the last few years of California’s recession and budget collapse. The reduced funding referred to by O’Connell doesn’t show the whole picture of the damage California is doing to our public schools because federal stimulus funds made up for much of the funding California failed to provide. Now that the federal stimulus funds have dried up and Congress isn’t providing more, California schools are staring into the abyss.

To make matters worse, the Governor proposes even more cuts to schools this year, although he ties himself up in knots to avoid suspending Proposition 98. The Legislative Analyst, on the other hand, is at least honest about suspending Proposition 98, but his proposal would do nearly as much damage. And, California is already behind the nation in school funding.

It is long past time for us to acknowledge that we are not in a short-term economic crisis that will resolve itself any time soon. The massive cuts being forced upon this state by the governor and Republicans are doing long-term damage to our children. They are bankrupting their future and the future of this state. At this point, the destruction is clear and deliberate. The continued refusal of my Republican colleagues to propose their version of a budget-balancing plan reflects either their desire to avoid the problem or their desire to reap political advantage by making Democrats take the cuts to meet their refusal to agree on new revenues like an oil severance tax. I’m not sure which is worse.

Responsible cuts are one thing — I supported them in the past — willful destruction is quite another.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Shock Doctrine According to Arnold

Channeling the late economist Milton Friedman, our governor continues his quest to “shock doctrine” California. As I pointed out a year ago, in my remarks opening the 2009 conference committee, the governor’s plan to shut down services, close parks, and starve California is classic doctrine politics. And like classic shock doctrine, it is being imposed immediately after a severe economic shock when people are worried and disoriented and unsure where to go next.

In his latest weekly radio address, the governor laid out his “philosophy” about how to get California’s economy back on track. He believes in lowering taxes and reducing government as a means to create jobs and grow revenue. In his words “the other side” (presumably the majority Democrats of the State Legislature) believes in “higher taxes, in bigger government, and in protecting public sector employees at the expense of the private sector.” Relating folksy conversations with then-Israeli Finance Minister Netanyahu and with Willie Brown, the governor claims he must shrink state government to get the state’s economy moving again. Using the alchemy of his own imagination, the governor plans to remove massive amounts of money from our local and state economies and lay off state workers to somehow grow our economy.

In sum, Schwarzenegger applies the discredited “trickle down” economic theories that have proven so disastrous for our nation’s economic health. See the impacts of the last 30 years’ worth of these economic policies on the United States.

Schwarzenegger claims that “higher taxes mean fewer jobs.” If that were true, then the huge tax cuts brought to us by the Bush Administration would have resulted in record high rates of employment. Instead, we are experiencing record high rates of unemployment. But let’s not let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of good ideology.

Schwarzenegger boasts that changes to California’s tax structure over the past 10 years have led to an increase in corporate revenues of $9 billion. It’s not clear whether this is a Freudian slip and the governor meant corporate tax revenues have increased or that corporate income has increased. Nevertheless, the facts show that corporate tax receipts paid to the State of California have proportionately decreased over time. According to the California Budget Project, corporate tax receipts are expected to provide 10.7 % of California’s General Fund revenues in FY 2009-10, down from 14.6 % in 1980-81 as a result of new corporate tax breaks and the 1996 corporate tax rate reduction.

Schwarzenegger asks whether it is “tax incentives that are strangling Greece, France, Spain, England and those countries” or “is it unsustainable costs and entitlements of growing governments?” No reputable economist would offer such a simplistic analysis of the world-wide economic collapse that overlooks the role of the financial markets and the bursting of the housing bubble. Furthermore, high unemployment rates are as a result of lack of demand for goods and services, not for lack of tax breaks.

Austerity budgets, such as that being proposed by Schwarzenegger both last year and this year, shrink the economy, not expand it, as a prominent Nobel-prize winning economist has pointed out repeatedly on his blog. See
Fifty-One Herbert Hoovers, Does Fiscal Austerity Assure Markets, and The Bad Logic of Fiscal Austerity.

Government needs to prime the pump and get businesses to invest and hire again.

California is not England, a sovereign country that can set its own fiscal policy. California is not even comparable to countries within the Euro-zone, such as Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain (commonly referred to as the PIGS). Nevertheless, the basic principles of Keynesian economics still apply to states like California. Money is money and whether it is money spent by the state or the federal government or by the private sector, when we put it in average people’s pockets, they spend it, and it circulates through our local and state economies. A job is a job; if you retain a state employee, that is one less unemployed person who needs unemployment insurance and social safety net programs. Cutting state services means removing both state and federal dollars from local economies; it means laying people off, contributing to our unemployment rate. It will harm our local economies and our state economy and lead to higher unemployment and reduced state revenues.

Schwarzenegger wraps up his weekly address by pledging “to fight with all my power to make sure government in California lives within its means.”

Yet, as I have pointed out before, Schwarzenegger and his Republican friends in the Legislature continue to insist upon giving away California’s “means.” Schwarzenegger’s first act as governor was to unilaterally reduce the car tax—his second act was to promise local governments that the state would “backfill” the loss of local revenues resulting from his first act. The cost of the governor’s actions have grown to around $6 billion a year, exacerbating the hole in our annual state budget and creating a structural deficit with which the state will struggle for years to come.

And “living within our means” has selective application. It applies only to services used by every day, average, hard-working, tax-paying Californians, like public schools, parks, transportation, IHSS, CalWORKS, Healthy Families, and Every Woman Counts. It doesn’t apply to billions worth of corporate tax loopholes or even corporate tax cuts adopted last year and poised to take effect in the budget year. And, it doesn’t apply to pork-laden bonds.

If “living within our means” is Schwarzenegger’s promise to Californians, then he’s already broken it—just like he intends to break our state. It’s that simple.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Time to Fix Every Woman Counts

As reported on this blog, the governor’s first act in 2010 was cutting 100,000 low-income women off from accessing life-saving mammograms provided through the Every Woman Counts program.

I’ve been pushing back to get answers from the administration ever since. I finally got them, but not from the Department of Public Health which oversees Every Woman Counts.

The long awaited information came from reports just released by the California State Auditor and the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Both uncovered what I have long suspected - Every Woman Counts has been mismanaged at the cost of women's health.

Consider these findings about the Department of Public Health:
• While cutting services in Every Woman Counts, it continued to spend money on consulting contracts; these funds could have been used to provide mammograms to an additional 41,500 women;
• For 16 years, the Department of Public Health failed to develop regulations to allow transparency and public oversight of Every Woman Counts; and
• It has failed to provide the Legislature with annual estimates of the number of women it expects to serve through the program even while it provided this information to the federal government to secure federal funds.

While the news about these reports is not positive, the need to fix this program is great. Early detection of breast cancer through mammograms is a key to surviving the disease. When breast cancer is detected early, the 5-year relative survival rate is 98%. In addition, studies show that breast cancer treatment costs can more than double if cancer goes undetected and spreads. Costs for treatment can go from about $21,000 to over $52,000.

This is why we must reverse the governor’s cuts to Every Woman Counts through this year’s budget. But we can’t just throw money at this broken program without fixing it. That is why I am working with breast cancer advocates and others on legislation – AB 1640 – this year. Let’s get past the lip service and make every woman count!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No Republican Budget Plan? No Surprise.

June 15 is the Constitutional deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget, a feat not accomplished since 1986. The date is never a surprise. So, what is the holdup?

This year, the governor has a budget plan. Ditto for the Democrats in the Assembly and the Senate. But we haven’t heard a peep from our Republican colleagues. They have presented no plan to address our $19.1 billion deficit. Instead, the Senate Republican leadership claims the Legislature as a whole is resistant to dealing with reality. In fact, it is Republican legislators who refuse to deal with reality while feigning outrage at delay they are causing. This is getting old. Indeed, their silence creates paralyzing gridlock.

This year is by no means unique in this respect. The only budget “proposal” that I have ever seen from Republican legislators was two years ago on August 30, 2008 - an astonishing 76 days after the deadline to pass a budget. That proposal was really only a press release. In my six years as a legislator, I have never seen another one.

If Republicans stick with their usual tactics, we won’t hear a peep from them during Conference Committee either. They will wait it out in order to push an extreme right-wing agenda through the Big 5 process.

The elimination of the 8-hour work day…the expansion of offshore oil drilling…tax cuts for the wealthiest of corporations while taxes rise on working people. What do they all have in common? They were pursued by Republicans behind the scenes through Big 5 processes. These attacks on the values of working Californians are why we must all support Speaker John Perez and his commitment to keep budget negotiations out of the Big 5.

Our budget process must empower the people, not special interests gaming the system for goodies. The budget belongs to the people. That is why I call on my Republican colleagues to come clean, come out of the shadows, and have the courage to share a comprehensive budget proposal with the public.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Smarter Budget, Especially on Jobs

Our enduring recession demands that California’s leaders offer new and innovative ideas to close our budget gap. And, priority number one is to reduce our 12.6% unemployment rate.

This is precisely why the Assembly Democrats’ budget proposal succeeds where the governor’s fails. The governor’s May Revise is a job killer. It will undermine California’s economic recovery with cuts that sacrifice 430,000 jobs in the private sector, local government, and local schools, increasing California’s unemployment rate to 15%.

The Assembly Democrats propose a $10.1 billion Jobs and Economic Stability Fund. We pay for the fund by borrowing from the state’s recycling program and paying it back through a new oil severance fee. In addition we would borrow $500 million from the Disability Insurance Fund. Our plan invests in education and job creation, and protects the safety net for families struggling in the grip of this recession. Our plan either saves or creates 465,000 jobs. Highlights of our proposal include:
Local Schools - $3.8 billion repayment of funds borrowed in prior budget years. This will protect tens of thousands of jobs for teachers, aides, and counselors by fully funding Proposition 98 and eliminating portions of the “Education Credit Card.” That’s $750 more per student than the governor’s proposal.
UC/CSU - $1 billion to restore recent education cuts and fully fund the UC and CSU. We would reduce the Governor’s student fee hike by 50 %, saving UC students $628 and CSU students $202.
Targeted Jobs Investment - $1.1 billion to strengthen California industries, including green and clean tech industries.
Community Colleges - $1.4 billion in critical employment services to move people from welfare to work and to retrain workers at Community Colleges.
Child Care - $1.9 billion to maintain childcare programs funded through CalWORKS and Proposition 98 in order to ensure that working parents can stay employed, over 50,000 small business childcare providers can stay in business, and businesses will not lose employees for lack of child care.
Local Government - $900 million repayment in funds owed to local governments for past mandates, which will protect thousands of local police, fire and other jobs.
Revenues – No one in California will pay more in taxes except oil companies. The personal income tax and sales tax increases that were adopted in February of 2009 will expire. The Vehicle License Fee would remain at 1.15%. The corporate tax cuts adopted last year would be delayed for 3 years in order to save over $2 billion to help offset cuts to programs benefiting working families and businesses.

As has been reported on this blog, the governor’s proposed evisceration of the safety net will have a body count. A recent report from the U.C. Center for Labor Research and Education shows how his cuts to the safety net will also kill California’s prospects for economic growth. For example, $1 billion in cuts to the in-home supportive services program costs 215,000 full-time jobs. It also costs us nearly $2.5 billion in matching federal funds and $5.16 billion worth of economic activity. $1 billion in cuts to Medi-Cal costs 35,900 jobs. It also costs us $1.6 billion in federal funds and $5.59billion worth of economic activity

In contrast, establishing an oil severance tax worth $1 billion per year in revenue will not lose federal funds and will have $1.7 billion in economic impacts. While the new oil severance tax may cost potentially 300 local jobs, this loss will be more than offset by the 465,000 jobs that our proposal protects and creates overall. That is a ratio of 1,500 jobs saved or created for 1 job lost.

Californians are crying out for help. This proposal is an innovative approach that will keep Californians working and provide long-term economic relief. We can do this without increasing the tax burden on anyone except oil companies. The question is: will the Governor and our Republican colleagues protect oil companies like Chevon, Exxon, and BP at the expense of California’s seniors, disabled, children, and jobless?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

California Cannot Afford Cuts Like These

An often forgotten fact about our state budget is that, sometimes, spending a little money saves a lot of money. This is especially true when it comes to our spending on family planning.

Nothing in our state budget rivals the financial benefits of each dollar spent on family planning services. For each dollar the state spends, we get another 9 dollars from the federal government. Therefore, it's baffling for the governor to claim that his cuts to family planning services providers will save the state $15 million.

The governor proposes reducing the Medi-Cal reimbursement rate for providers of family planning services – like doctors, clinics, and managed health care plans – to 1985 levels This rolls back a vital rate increase adopted in 2007. In 2007, before the rate increase, clinics throughout the state were turning away 10,000 patients a month and the reimbursement rates for family planning were at 50% of what Medicare paid for similar services. Since 2007, 2 million Californians have lost their insurance, meaning the number of Californians to be turned away each month under the governor’s reductions will be significantly larger.

Fortunately, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services rejected the governor’s proposal today.

Reducing the reimbursement rate would undermine one of the most cost-effective programs in California’s budget, Family PACT, which provides contraception to nearly one million women and 100,000 men each year. According to a recent report from U.C. San Francisco, California saves $9.25 per dollar spent on Family PACT.

By providing low-income Californians with contraception, Family PACT has averted an estimated 296,200 unintended pregnancies, 81,200 of which among adolescents. Statistically, these 296,200 pregnancies would have led to 133,000 live births, 122,200 abortions, 3,000 ectopic pregnancies, and 38,000 miscarriages. Because low-income pregnant women qualify for several public programs, like health care, Family PACT saved the public approximately $6,557 in costs per woman and child from conception to age two and $14,111 per woman and child from conception to age 5. In 2007 alone, this translates into saving $1.88 billion and over $4 billion, respectively.

Small investments in family planning reap enormous benefits, both to people and our budget. We should be proud of the results we have achieved in reducing teen pregnancy to record lows. Instead of cutting family planning, we should be looking for ways to replicate its results. California cannot afford cuts like these.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Governor Values Corporations over Children

Last Friday, the governor issued his May Revision of the state budget. If, as the governor says, it reflects his values, then it is clear he is willing to accept uneducated, undernourished, and uncared for children for $2.4 billion in new corporate tax cuts.

In order to close our $19.1 billion deficit, the governor proposes massive cuts. Despite promising to protect education, the governor’s single biggest cut of nearly $3 billion comes from K-12 education. The picture gets much worse, especially for poor kids.

While the state’s unemployment level soars at over 12%, the governor proposes eliminating the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS) program, subsidized child care, and nutrition programs like the California Food Assistance Program. This will drive families into poverty and make it significantly more difficult to transition back into the workforce during this recession.

Eliminating CalWORKS would mark a significant change for California, which has had a welfare program since 1911. It cuts at the well-being of over 1 million kids in California since 3 out of 4 CalWORKS recipients are children. How much are CalWORKS grants? On average, $503 per month for a family of three. Beyond the enormity of human costs associated with eliminating this program, California would lose $4 billion in federal funds in order to save $1.2 billion. And, California would become the only state not to have some form of welfare to work program.

If we eliminate subsidized child care, the parents of 142,000 children will face the lose-lose choice of leaving their children unattended during the day or leaving their jobs. The latter risks hunger, homelessness, and the loss of healthcare insurance.

Eliminating the California Food Assistance Program will affect the food budgets of over 32,000 people. We are not talking about a lot of money. The average monthly benefit is $112 per person. But nearly 3 million more people risk going hungry under the governor’s budget since he has also proposed cuts to the funds that pay for the administration of food stamps, which are paid for entirely with federal funds.

In one budget, the governor wants to create a future of poverty for millions of Californians while assuring extravagant wealth for a small elite. The governor is right in saying that the budget is a reflection of our values. But Californians don’t value corporate profits over people, especially kids.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Impacts of the Recession on California’s Women and Families

As always, whatever affects California’s women also affects California’s families. The California Budget Project (CBP) recently released a report about the effects of the Great Recession on California’s working women which holds some disturbing demographic information as we look to economic recovery.

Early in the recession, layoffs were concentrated primarily in construction and manufacturing sectors that employ a greater share of men. But, more recently, layoffs have been concentrated in sectors that employ a greater share of women. For example, jobs in K-12 public schools and community colleges started to decline in the summer of 2008, disproportionately affecting women who represent more than six out of 10 workers in the local government sector.

The unemployment rate for women doubled between 2006 and 2009, rising from 5% to 10%. This has hit California’s single mothers the hardest. They were twice as likely as their married counterparts to be unemployed in 2009, and they were more likely to be underemployed.

This recession is taking a serious toll on the earnings of working women and, consequently, the purchasing power of working families. The number of California’s married-couple families with children relying solely on the earnings of wives increased by 77.7 % between 2006 and 2009. Families supported by two working parents fell from 55.1% to 49.7%. The strains on families are exacerbated by this trend since women have yet to achieve economic parity with men. The typical woman earns only 89.1 cents for every dollar earned by a typical working man.

For the past 30 years, family earnings have kept reasonably steady but only because wives and mothers entered the work force in huge numbers. During the past 3 decades, families have required the income of 2 working adults in order to just maintain earning power. Without the earnings of married women, middle-income married-couple families would have lost ground economically. The average inflation-adjusted income of these working families would have declined by 2.2% since 1979. Now that these women, who have yet to achieve economic parity with men, have also been affected by layoffs, underemployment and pay reductions, California’s working families can expect to lose more ground economically.

Working women have provided the economic stability so necessary to California’s families. In the face of this recession, as we proceed with crafting the state budget, we must be mindful of the cuts that will be especially harmful to California’s women and our working families. As reported on this blog, the governor’s proposals are especially lethal. We need more compassionate alternatives.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Women and Children First

The governor’s proposed budget cuts give new meaning to “women and children first”— first out of the safety net that is.

Yesterday, the California Budget Project (CBP) issued a series of reports analyzing the governor’s proposed budget cuts. And, not surprisingly, they found that the burden of these cuts falls most heavily on the women and children of this great state.

One report found that women comprise more than three out of five adults enrolled in our primary safety net programs. Over 77.7% of adult CalWORKS recipients are women and women comprise 92.5% of single parents who receive cash assistance. 57.3% of SSI/SSP recipients are women. And, 63.5% of Californians receiving in-home supportive services are women and girls.

Another CBP report notes that Medi-Cal is an important source of health coverage for low-income women and their families. Nearly 2/3 of adult enrollees are women and more than half of those women are in their peak reproductive years. Nine out of 10 single parents enrolled in Medi-Cal are women. Women, who usually have lower incomes than men, are more likely to forego medical services or become financially destitute because of medical costs.

The governor’s budget proposals would roll back a 2008 rate increase for family planning services provided through Family PACT. His proposed cut of $15.4 million would cause the state to lose $73.4 million in federal funds. Every dollar the State of California invests in family planning gets $9 in federal funds! In addition, a recent report from U.C. San Francisco found that every dollar spent on the Family PACT program saves California $9.25 by reducing medical and social services costs associated with unintended pregnancies. Add it all up and the total loss to California in one year exceeds $200 million. And most of this loss would be born by female Californians.

The governor also proposes eliminating state funding for Adult Day Health Care. On paper the state would save $134.7 million but we would also lose $216 million in federal funds. Furthermore, 37,000 Medi-Cal recipients would lose access to critical services and likely end up in nursing care, which is nearly 5 times more expensive to the state.

Governor, the numbers don’t add up. Not only are your proposed budget cuts morally bankrupt, they are fiscally foolish.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Making Sure Every Woman Counts, Again

As previously explained on this blog, the governor’s first act of 2010 was to take mammograms away from 100,000 low-income women in California. In violation of the Legislature’s clear direction last summer, the governor restricted eligibility for Every Woman Counts (EWC) and has proposed to defund the program for the second half of FY 2010. EWC receives no financial support from the state’s General Fund.

Today, the Democratic members of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services fought back. They voted to restore funding to EWC. This new fundjng is needed to end the governor’s freeze in new enrollment and new eligibility restrictions to women aged 50 or older.

The pains of the governor’s cuts run deep. As reported over the weekend, the Elizabeth Center for Cancer Detection in downtown Los Angeles has been operating since 1944, now providing 13,000 mammograms a year primarily for low-income Latinas. As a result of the governor’s cuts, the Elizabeth Center has been partially closed for a month and without additional funding, the Center may close entirely within a matter of weeks. This tragedy is being repeated throughout the state.

California is indeed facing rough seas as we weather the worst financial storm since the Great Depression. But we cannot throw women out of the lifeboat first. Our message to women cannot be “sorry, you’re on your own.”

More work lies ahead to assure that today's inspiring action is ultimately included in the budget. But we are working in the right direction. Help us keep the pressure on the governor and Republicans during the rest of the budget process so that, once again, every woman will count in California. Every voice counts!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Case for More Game Wardens

Last week, the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture held its Annual Fisheries Forum to discuss the strained status of our fisheries and the challenges faced by fishing communities. As California acts to restore its fisheries, we must make sure we are funding the very people who enforce the laws intended to protect our fisheries: game wardens.

Game wardens are understaffed, over worked, and under employed. Without game wardens, our fisheries restoration efforts risk failure and we will be asking the fishing industry, California tribes, and recreational boats to sacrifice for nothing.

With the implementation of the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), California’s restrictions on fishing are stronger than ever. In an effort to restore our fisheries, fishing is now prohibited along vast stretches of our coastline, called Marine Protection Areas (MPAs). MPAs have forced fishermen and entire communities to make an immediate sacrifice of their livelihood for the future greater good. They must stand by and give up making their living from the sea in hopes of restoring the fisheries to better health.

If MPAs are to be effective in restoring fish populations, they must be protected from poachers. Otherwise, they risk becoming what some are already calling “Marine Poaching Areas.” As last week’s hearing revealed loud and clear, California must do more to support the men and women on the front lines of this fight. Yet, Fish and Game wardens have long been underfunded.

According to testimony from Director of the Department of Fish and Game, John MacCamman, California should have 1,000 game wardens. Instead, we have only 385 sworn positions, or about 1/3 of what we should have to meet our current needs. This staffing problem is exacerbated by the three furlough days that the governor has imposed on state workers, which has reduced staff hours by some 15%. Adding new MPAs will only make this problem worse.

What’s at stake? McCamman cited a recent example from Sonoma County where wardens stopped 147 cars on suspicion of poaching. Of those 147 cars, 43 had been poaching abalone. With nearly 30% of these cars caught poaching, imagine how many others evade consequences for shamelessly breaking the law. Imagine how much damage that does to salmon and steelhead restoration efforts along the coast or the protection of threatened green sturgeon in the Delta.

It is astonishingly counterproductive to undercut our long-term fisheries restoration needs with enforcement done on the cheap. It is unfair to require law abiding fishermen to make another living or find another hobby while poachers run free. It is immoral to ask Native Americans to stand by while they literally watch law-breakers get away with poaching their traditional fishing grounds. When we are asking others to make enormous sacrifices, its only fair that the state meet its responsibilities too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Protecting Foster Youth from Petty Politics

It started out so promising—a bipartisan coalition of legislators and the governor were working together to make steady progress toward improving California’s foster care system. But then the governor abandoned us and foster youth are paying the price.

Under the leadership of former Speaker Karen Bass, the Legislature established a joint, bipartisan Select Committee on Foster Care. Several of us met with the governor in 2005 and received his personal commitment to work with us to improve our foster care system.

Slowly but surely, enormous progress was made by doing much more for foster youth with very little additional resources. California was improving transitional services for youth aging out of the foster care system. California was strengthening its Kinship Guardian Assistance Payment (KinGap) program to identify relatives with whom to place foster children. This progress was something in which all of us took great pride. The Legislature’s partnership with the governor was leaving a brighter legacy of care for foster children in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Then, last year, in what appears to have been a swipe at former Speaker Karen Bass, the governor vetoed $80 million in funding for the Child Welfare Services program. Since this program receives $53 million in matching federal funds, the loss to the program totals $133 million.

As a result of the governor’s line item budget vetoes, abused and neglected children across the state are not receiving the services they need. This is mainly because of a shortage of social workers, 509 of whom have lost their jobs over the last year. Consequently, children are suffering long waits to be reunited with their families. Sacramento County, for example, has cut 30% of its staff and faces another round of staffing cuts. This has forced nearly 3,000 children in the Sacramento region to remain in foster care longer than necessary.

The problems for foster youth don’t end there. Imperial County has eliminated its program to prevent the placement of children in state care, Intensive Family Reunification Services. And court hearings related to child welfare are being delayed across the state, keeping nearly 2 million children trapped in potentially life-threatening situations.

That is why the governor must support the restoration of child welfare funding, which began with today’s vote in the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services to do just that.

A day in the life of a child is long. A day in the life of an abused or neglected child in foster care is even longer. The abused and neglected children in our foster care system should not continue to face this intolerable and shameful situation.

The Assembly has acted. I hope the governor joins us.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Having Their Cake and Eating It Too

Earlier this week we had a lively debate in Assembly Budget Committee regarding reducing the 2/3 vote on revenues, budget, and taxation. This is the second of four hearings the Budget Committee will hold to consider reform proposals from California Forward.

California Forward has been working for more than a year to find a compromise proposal to reform California’s dysfunctional budget system. Their proposal includes things that Democrats like but Republicans hate, like reducing the vote necessary to pass a budget to a majority vote; it also includes things that Republicans like but Democrats hate, like increasing the vote necessary to pass certain fees to a supermajority 2/3 vote. The California Forward proposal is the perfect example of a compromise: everyone gives a little something and no one walks away completely happy.

During this week’s debate, it became clear that the Republicans on the Budget Committee do not support changing the 2/3 vote required to adopt a budget. They spun this position as “protecting” the taxpayer. But a majority vote requirement seems to work for 47 other states, for the federal budget, and for every city and county in the US. Somehow all of those “unprotected” jurisdictions seem to function quite well and with a lot less drama at budget-time.

The issue is really about leverage—leverage that the minority party uses every year when it comes time to vote for the state budget. If the issue is really protection, then to be consistent we should also require a 2/3 supermajority vote to create new tax loopholes and to reduce taxes. Too often the price for passing a budget is creation of a new tax give-away. Such “protection” is illusory for the rest of the taxpayers who must then bear a greater share of the burden. Such “protection” is what leads us down the garden-path to more and more cuts to services that Californians value.

As we move forward on this debate, be on the lookout for a political trap being laid: California Forward has already built into its proposal compromises it believes are necessary to capture the support of both Democrat and Republican voters. In fact, polling done by California Forward shows that their proposal gets support from both parties if it manages to get onto the ballot. And California Forward has asked the State Legislature to vote to put it on the ballot. It takes a 2/3 vote to do so. Yet Republicans in the Assembly have thus far made it clear they don’t intend to provide the votes necessary to put the proposal on the ballot. So if Democrats vote to support the California Forward compromise, they will be voting for it without the support of the people with whom they are attempting to compromise. This then allows the Republicans to take the ostensibly reasonable position that there are proposals in the California Forward initiative that they can support and we should all just move forward with those proposals alone, thereby making themselves the “champions” of reform and transforming Democrats into the blockers of reform.

Every year Republicans argue that the Legislature should move forward initially with those items in the budget that we supposedly “all” support, i.e., cuts to services, and reserve the remaining issues for another day. Thus far, we have refused to fall into this trap and have insisted that all issues be negotiated together.

Let’s not fall for it in negotiating budgetary reforms. If we do, we are only negotiating with ourselves.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Plea for Better Budget Polling

I’m not a pollster. I’m just a politician wanting to know what voters really think about how we should realistically close a $20B deficit. That’s why I am making this public plea for better budget polling.

Most if not all polls ask voters simple questions about budget issues out of context or in a “vacuum.” Vacuum polls show us that everyone hates cuts to the services they care about and that everyone dislikes the thought of paying more taxes. But a budget with huge deficits like the ones California has recently experienced can’t be balanced without substantial cuts or tax increases or both. So, how can these polls better help politicians determine true public opinion on budget issues?

These polls reflect a tremendous conflict on the part of the voters. It has become clear that voters abhor taxes conceptually. But it has become equally clear that voters love public services and find it hard to identify services to cut in order to balance the state budget. What these polls reflect is incoherent thinking—not on the part of the voters, but on the part of the polls.

By testing voters’ dislike of cuts and taxes in a vacuum, we know little of their opinions in the context of the services they value and the taxes which pay for them. My dream poll would include questions like this:
Q1: Which of these state services do you value:
- public education
- public parks
- public roads and highways
- public libraries
- public safety
- state regulation of food safety
- state regulation of workplace protections
- state regulation for clean water and clean air
Q2: Of these public services, which would you eliminate first in order to balance the state budget?
Q3: Would you prefer to pay slightly higher taxes to protect those services you value?
Q4: Would you pay slightly higher taxes to expand those services?
Q5: Would you prefer to pay slightly lower taxes in order to reduce or eliminate those services?

The data now being produced is less than useless; in fact, it’s downright harmful. Everyone hates taxes in a vacuum. These well-meaning but poorly written polls feed right into the Grover Norquist no tax, no government narrative and fail to give an accurate snapshot of what the voters want. Because these polls provide skewed data, they reinforce the common belief that government is out of touch with the voters’ desires. Please, pollsters and research organizations—start testing voters’ opinions on the budget within the context of why we pay taxes and which services will have to be cut.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who's Really Taxed Enough Already

April 15 – Tax Day – has become a day of protest. A new report from the California Budget Project shows exactly which taxpayers in California are entitled to gripe the most. And, it’s probably not who you think.

According to the report, when measured as a share of family income, the poorest of Californians pay the most in taxes. The lowest 20% of non-elderly wage earners with an average annual income of $13,200 pay 11.1% of their income in taxes. By comparison, the wealthiest 1%, with an average income of $2.2 million per year, pays only 7.8% of their income in taxes.

And, to make matters worse, out of nearly 650,000 Californians with an average annual income of over $200,000, 2,044 of them paid no state income taxes. This number has more than tripled since 1997.

Despite the shrill protestations being made today by Tea Party members that Californians are taxed more than any people on earth, the findings of the report prove the opposite. California is 21st among the 50 states in tax burden. That’s right—we are smack in the middle of the 50 states in terms of state taxes as a percentage of personal income. But some never let the facts get in the way of making their argument.

Finally, the report observes that over the past 20 years, California has shifted from reliance upon corporate income taxes to personal income taxes. This year, 53.2% of the state’s General Fund – which pays for core state services like public education, health care, and public safety – will come from personal income taxes, compared to only 35.4% in 1980-81.

One might think that all Californians are paying their fair share during this economic crisis where fairness demands shared sacrifice. One would be wrong.

The people who should be protesting today can’t afford to because they are at work today.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Millions Affected by Governor’s Budget Cuts

Today the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services held a lengthy hearing to explore the combined human toll of cuts adopted within the current budget and the governor’s proposed cuts for 2010-2011. We learned that 5.4 million Californians have been impacted by cuts to the health and human services budget and another 9.5 million lives are impacted by the governor’s proposals.

Unless we craft a more humane budget, up to 15 million lives – 41 percent of the state’s population – will be affected just by cuts to health and human services.

Last year the Legislature had a gun to its head—California was on the brink of fiscal insolvency. As a result, we had to make tough budgetary choices in order to keep the doors of the state open.

One of these tough choices was to take deep cuts in services to women, children, the elderly and the disabled. But the Legislature strived to avoid making cuts that kill. The governor’s proposals for 2010-2011 show that he does not share this commitment. His cuts will have a body count. Therefore, before we move forward to craft a state budget asking for more sacrifice from Californians, we need to know who is shouldering the burden of last year’s cuts.

As I said in committee, this is the people’s house, this is the people’s budget and the people are getting screwed.

In subcommitee today, we heard testimony about millions of Californians who will suffer as a result of last year’s cuts. Details can be found here. For instance, during this recession, CalWORKS applications have increased by 10%; yet we heard today that the CalWORKS grant has been reduced to the level paid 20 years ago. This huge reduction affects the lives of nearly 1.5 million Californians. Elimination of Medi-Cal optional adult dental benefits means 932,000 Californians will no longer receive any dental care. Suspension of the SSI/SSP COLA affects more than 1.1 million Californians. Reduction to health clinic programs resulted in clinic closures, reduced hours, reduced staff and elimination of some services impacting 1.1 million Californians. Some Californians will feel the effects of more than one of these cuts.

The governor’s proposed reductions for 2010-2011 will increase the misery for Californians in need. For example, unless California receives $6.9 billion in federal funds, an amount widely viewed as unrealistic, the governor proposes to reduce Medi-Cal eligibility to the minimum affecting more than 2.1 million Californians. He also proposes to eliminate CalWORKS, in-home supportive services (IHSS) and Transitional Housing Program-Plus, which will harm more than 2.5 Californians.

While we continue to explore the impacts of the 2010-2011 cuts, we also need to know where will these Californians’ turn? What will they do? Where can they seek help? So far, the administration has turned a blind eye to the impacts of the governor’s proposals. Today the Department of Social Services admitted that it assumed no one being affected by elimination of IHSS services would go into state-subsidized skilled nursing facilities! To borrow a phrase from Congressman Alan Grayson, is the governor’s plan that these folks die and die quickly?

During today’s hearing, the Department of Social Services stated that the governor’s May revise budget proposals will re-examine his current proposals to eliminate services if the federal trigger is not achieved. This is welcome news. By simply proposing wholesale elimination of services, the governor defaults on his responsibility to the people of this state. The Legislature didn’t adopt his proposal to eliminate services last year. And, given the improvements to our state revenues so far this year, it looks like we won’t need to even consider the idea this year.

Today I urged the administration to come back to the Legislature with practical proposals that do not involve the elimination of services. We need to move forward to begin repairing the damage done last year in order to avert certain human disaster. We must protect and restore the services Californians so desperately need.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Governor’s Health Care Cuts Add to the Growing Budget Body Count

Over 8 million Californians are now uninsured according to a new study released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. The study further found:
• Over the last two years, 2 million Californians lost their health coverage
• The sharp growth in uninsured Californians tracks the growth in unemployment from 5.4 percent in 2007 to 12.3 percent in 2009
• The number of uninsured Californians increased by 28% since 2007
• One in four Californians lack health insurance, including 6.8 million adults and 1.5 million children.

These findings show why Californians desperately needs health care reform at the national level. They also show something far more sinister: The governor’s budget cuts to health care will make California’s health care crisis considerably worse.

The Governor’s proposal to eliminate the Healthy Families program will take health care away from over a million children. His proposal to reduce Medi-Cal eligibility to the federal minimum will take health care away from another 2 million people. Our response to these proposals will literally mean the difference between life or death.

The absence of shared sacrifice in the governor’s budget proposals shows his true priorities. While millions of seniors, working families, and children will lose life-saving health care because of his proposals, the only thing the governor is asking of the rich is to risk waiting another year to break out the champagne when their taxes get cut.

Reportedly, the governor is thinking of his legacy as his failed governorship enters its final months. He campaigned for office saying he wanted to blow up the boxes of waste in state government. But people who need health care are not waste.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Update on Every Woman Counts

For some time now, I have been saying that the governor’s budget cuts this year come with a body count. Now comes unwelcome news that shows where the bodies of poor women of color will soon begin stacking up.

On March 4, The Elizabeth Center for Cancer Detection sent me a lengthy and detailed letter advising that its board of directors will vote to close the Center in April or May. The Center cannot survive financially due to the governor’s unilateral cuts to the Every Woman Counts (EWC) program. In shutting down California’s historic safety net for the poor, the governor seemed to think that the poor will find help elsewhere. The likely closure of The Elizabeth Center puts the lie to such fantasy.

The Elizabeth Center has served the Los Angeles community for over 65 years and has screened over 750,000 patients for cancer. The Center depends upon EWC for 85% of its funding. Of the 14,183 patients they screened last year, 12,012 were covered by EWC. The Elizabeth Center serves a patient population which is over 90% minority and low income; over 86% of their patients are Latina.

The Elizabeth Center said it best: “The denial of breast cancer screening to women under 50 means that an increasing number of these women will not be diagnosed through breast cancer screening until they are at an advanced stage of this disease, and many of them will die. The irony of this is that the Governor’s strategy will result in increased public costs….” [Emphasis mine]. Not to mention the toll on women and their families resulting from these preventable deaths.

This puts the governor’s priorities in perspective—women must die to create the perception that he is serious about addressing the state’s fiscal problems, even though the cuts save no money and the resulting deaths are preventable. Doubtless, these women are seen as mere collateral damage by the governor. Maybe he was type-cast as The Terminator?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Follow Your Own Direction

The governor and I don’t agree on much. But two months ago, in his State of the State speech, the governor said we had to get our priorities straight and keep them straight, and the "first priority for the coming year is the economy and jobs." On this we agree.

Accordingly, last week the Legislature sent the governor two budget-related transportation bills that create and protect tens of thousands of jobs at a time when California’s unemployment rate exceeds 11%. It's time for the governor to follow his own direction by signing ABx8 6 and 9.

These two bills, both authored by the Assembly Budget Committee, will fully fund local transit with an ongoing and sustainable funding source, bring more funding for highways, streets and roads, and provide nearly a billion dollars in relief to the state’s General Fund.

More importantly, these bills translate into immediate jobs. Shamefully, public transit has received no state financial support since 2007. As a result, more than 40,000 statewide public transit jobs are in jeopardy. These bills will stabilize transit and protect those jobs. The bills also provide funding to create approximately 6,400 new infrastructure-related jobs. Finally, the bills will pay down bond debt that has created more than 19,000 jobs.

Transit is in crisis, as are the working people who rely on it. The governor issued a challenge, and on Monday these jobs bills were delivered to him. He has until March 20th to act.

Governor, it's time for you to do as you say and keep your priorities straight. Sign these bills and you will protect working families, create jobs, and help the economy. I hope on that we can agree.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Assembly Moves Key Budget Items Forward

The Assembly Budget Committee met today to hear three pending items in the special session relating to cash management, social services, and the environment. All three bills were passed out of committee on a bipartisan vote and referred to the Assembly Floor for a vote.

Most of the hearing focused on ABx8 5, which provides cash solutions for both the current year and the budget year. State Treasurer Bill Lockyer testified that the state cannot sell GO bonds until this bill is passed. Inaction on this bill has delayed a $2 billion GO bond offering previously scheduled for next week.

We need to pass this bill in order to bolster market confidence in California’s bonds as investments. This will help us to create jobs by rolling out state infrastructure projects. The committee passed ABx8 5 with a 19-3 vote, conditioned with the expressed intent to author any necessary cleanup legislation.

ABx8 7 restores financial solvency to our state’s recycling program – or the California Beverage Container Recycling (Bottle Bill) Program – for the next sixteen months. It also makes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, which provides low interest financing for water quality projects, eligible for federal funding. The committee passed ABx8 7 with a 24-0 vote.

SBx8 4 provides statutory changes in developmental services and foster care. The committee passed SBx8 4 with amendments focusing on caseload ratios at regional centers with a 15-3 vote.

As urgency legislation, passing ABx8 5 and ABx8 7 will require a two-thirds vote of the Assembly. So, they cannot pass without Republican votes. I hope that my Republican colleagues join me in supporting these bills, along with SBx8 4 which makes tough but necessary cuts to reduce our budget deficit.

This conclusion simply reinforces the fact that difficult and painful cuts are basically all that are left for us to consider as we continue working to close our budget gap. Therefore, we must proceed with great caution and care in the months ahead.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Plugging the Holes in the California Lifeboat

I met today in my District Office with local advocates for the Children’s Health Initiative. They came armed with some alarming numbers: If the Healthy Families program is eliminated, as proposed by the governor within the 2010-2011 budget, 80,769 children in the County of Riverside will lose their state-subsidized health care, 69,703 in San Bernardino County, 26,687 in Kern County, 23,076 in Fresno County, 80,451 in San Diego County, 90,143 in Orange County, and 242,660 in LA County. Further information available here.

Multiply this by the millions of Californians affected by the unraveling of our state, and you will start to get the picture of the carnage that is being wreaked by the governor’s proposals to address California’s deficit. Well-meaning advocates plead their cases for various important programs proposed for closure or cuts by the governor: each asking that their program be given priority: Healthy Families, CalWORKS, CalGrants, K-12 education, UC students, CSU students, community colleges, game wardens, state parks, public transit, MediCal, community medical clinics, rural hospitals, Every Woman Counts, inter-city rail, family planning, women’s health care, domestic violence shelters, the Williamson Act, firefighting services, local police departments, CHP, HIV/AIDS, local streets and roads, adult day health care, In Home Supportive Services, Black Infant Health, child care, “optional” Medi-Cal treatments such as dental, podiatry, and vision—and the list goes on and on….

When the impacts of the current recession are factored in, over 17% of Californians are expected to be living in poverty. Twenty percent of African-American Californians live in poverty. Poverty rates in certain counties are very high: 19% of Kern County residents live in poverty; 20% of Tulare County residents live in poverty. In Los Angeles, the poverty rate is 15%. For children, the rates are even higher: in Fresno County, 37.3% of children live in poverty. In San Bernardino County, 20.6% of children live in poverty. Overall, nearly 20% of California’s children lived in poverty in 2008, the last year for which data is available. Due to the recent recession, continued increased unemployment rate, and ongoing mortgage foreclosures, that number has surely soared.

Meanwhile, billions of dollars in new corporate tax giveaways are scheduled to go into effect next summer. The governor threatens to veto legislation aimed at tax cheats and tax avoiders. Last year, billionaire tobacco and oil companies ran mail and telephone campaigns opposing even small tax levies on their products to balance the budget. Anthem Blue Cross not only opposes federal health care reform which would solve the biggest part of our state deficit, but it threatens premium increases of 39%.

For the advocates I met with today, and the many like them who work daily to provide basic services to Californians, the message is simple but bleak: we all need to realize that a terrible change is happening here in our state. Our long-time, unified commitment to a basic standard of living and equal opportunity for all Californians is being torn apart. While we face unprecedented levels of debt and deficit, it should be possible for all of us to join together to find solutions that protect the least among us and that keep our fundamentals intact, allowing us to weather this crisis together as a community. Instead, the Governor and his kind use this crisis to drive a wedge between Californians to divide us along economic lines. They would use this crisis to drive more Californians further into poverty, while enriching those at the very top.

Those of us who continue to believe in California’s historic commitment to a common purpose would share the sacrifices while we work toward a better future for all. Last year at this time, our commitment held—we rejected the governor’s proposed shut-down of state services and put everything on life support, funded at minimal levels. We must continue to fight those who would force the poorest and most vulnerable among us to bear the burdens of this recession and do the same this year. We must keep our eye on a collective better future by continuing to invest in public education and providing the most basic care to our children, our elderly, and the disabled in our communities until California pulls out of this recession and we can all do better. No one should be left behind or thrown off our lifeboat.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sacrificing Women First

The governor’s plan for solving California’s budget crisis is for low-income Californians to die. And, because of the governor’s cuts to Every Woman Counts, it's ladies first.

As previously explained on this blog, the governor’s first act of 2010 was to take mammograms away from 100,000 low-income women provided through the Every Woman Counts program. This was in direct violation of the Legislature’s direction this summer. We appropriated what the Department of Public Health (DPH) told us was anticipated to be sufficient funding for the year. We denied DPH’s proposal to reduce eligibility for the program because we did not want to cut women off from this life-saving screening.

Yesterday, the Assembly Budget Committee held a hearing on the governor’s cuts. Dr. Mark Horton, Director of the Department of Public Health, testified that the administration’s decision to reduce mammogram access through EWC was strictly a fiscal decision. But testimony from Dr. Jon Grief of the American Cancer Society showed that early breast cancer detection has an enormous financial benefit to our public health system and these cuts will lead to substantially higher state costs. He cited a U.C. San Francisco study, which found that cancer heath care costs increased from $21,320 for women diagnosed with in situ cancer, to $26,747 for localized cancer, $40,096 for regional cancer, and $52,288 for distant cancer. The majority of these increased costs would be paid for by MediCal.

The administration has offered numerous rationales and defenses for the governor’s cuts to EWC. We have been told that Proposition 99, which funds EWC, is experiencing declining revenues; but there is no evidence that Proposition 99 funds are insufficient to support the current program. In fact, the Legislative Analyst’s Office told us that the state had collected $285 million in 2009/10; the appropriation for EWC was roughly $47million. And, the administration further claims that the Legislature authorized these cuts, which is simply not true.

The governor’s budget proposals for FY 2010-2011 shift Proposition 99 funds away from providing mammograms to other programs usually paid for out of the General Fund. It is, therefore, clear that the governor wants to take Proposition 99 funds to solve the state’s budget crisis.

It appears from evidence produced at the hearing that the governor has taken money appropriated by the Legislature for Every Woman Counts and shifted it to pay for other state liabilities. In order to achieve that funding shift, he shut down enrollment for 6 months and limited eligibility. In doing so, he violated legislative authorization, ensured that low-income women will not get life-saving breast cancer detection, and guaranteed the state will incur more costs for treatment.

Dr. Grief posed the question: What is a life worth? That is the question of this state budget debate. And, it’s time to fight back! Women’s lives are at stake. Every one of us is in some way impacted by breast cancer. While we undoubtedly have a state budget crisis, these cuts create a moral crisis as well. We must pursue less deadly alternatives.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Power Plays and Smelly Cheese

The Assembly Budget Committee met yesterday to discuss California’s cash crisis and deficit. State Controller John Chiang testified that we face a cash crunch for a three week period in March and April. He said any solutions we come up with must be “credible and sustainable.”

What’s the governor’s proposal to address California’s cash crisis? Sadly, it’s just another power play. He seeks unprecedented unilateral authority for the Department of Finance to delay almost all state payments at any time during the next two fiscal years. This would include payments to K-12 schools, community colleges, UCs and CSU, trial courts, Medi-Cal providers, all state vendors, tax refunds, and SSI and CalGrant payments. Such broad, unfettered authority would wreak havoc throughout our state because no one would know when or if they could expect payment.

This is part of a continuing pattern of the Administration’s failure to address California’s problems. Despite the State Controller’s numerous warnings that the state lacks a proper cash cushion and may run out of cash, the Administration has no plan to deal with this crisis.

Once again, the governor has punted to the Legislature. If previous patterns hold true, the governor will soon begin whining to the press that the Legislature is failing to act on his proposal to address the cash crisis. Never mind that his proposal is like Swiss cheese—smelly and full of holes.

The Committee expressed bi-partisan frustration with the administration for failing to make a legitimate proposal to assure that the state pays its bills. One member called this proposal “outrageous;” another called it “breathtaking.” I call it irresponsible and insufficient. It utterly fails the Controller’s test of “credible and sustainable.” I told the Department of Finance to return with a real cash management plan.

Last year, California’s cash shortage stopped 5,400 bond-funded projects, putting many people out of work. It also delayed $2.2 billion worth of tax refunds and resulted in the issuance of 450,000 IOUs. We can and must avoid the same problem this year.

Next week we will begin detailed subcommittee hearings and the Legislature will act before the special session deadline of February 22. We will be working with the Controller, the Legislative Analyst's Office, and the Department of Finance to develop a serious plan that avoids a cash problem. Once we have that immediate problem behind us, we will focus on enacting a fair, timely, and credible budget for FY 2010-2011.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

IHSS Community: Protect Your Rights, Protect Yourselves

Nancy Riley is the long-time in-home care provider for Michael Condon, a Vietnam veteran who was recently interrogated and threatened at his home by an armed state investigator questioning his IHSS benefits. This alarming incident demands a thorough investigation and I encourage anyone with a similar experience to report it immediately.

Legislation adopted last year calls for unannounced home visits to investigate suspected fraud. However, the legislation also required the Department of Social Services (DSS) to develop protocols for these visits. These protocols have not yet been developed, so it was a big surprise to find out that unannounced visits have already begun with no guidance in place to protect anyone involved. It was also a surprise to find out that the Department plans to purchase Polaroid cameras to photograph IHSS recipients.

These protocols will ensure that home visits are conducted in such a way to protect the integrity of the IHSS program while respecting IHSS clients and providers. DSS has committed to undertaking the requisite stakeholder process, and the Legislature will monitor it to ensure that it does.

In the meantime, I believe these unannounced visits may not yet be legal. Photography is certainly not authorized by law. The governor himself requested this new law and signed it. Now, his administration must abide by it.

Until the home visit protocols are finalized, there is an opportunity for scam artists posing as investigators to come into the homes of IHSS recipients and defraud or abuse them. Therefore, I want to alert everyone in the IHSS community to take the necessary steps to protect yourselves. Confirm the identity of anyone claiming to be a fraud investigator before allowing them to enter your home.

If you are a provider or consumer with concerns about a visit from a fraud investigator, please call the Department of Health Care Services toll free at 1-800-822-6222.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finally, Some Less Bad News for IHSS

The Assembly and Senate held an oversight hearing yesterday regarding the administration’s continuing implementation of IHSS changes adopted as part of the FY 2009-2010 budget, affecting 460,000 IHSS consumers and 385,000 IHSS providers. After two contentious hearings in the past few months, we heard encouraging news that the administration is starting to work with stakeholders and improve its approach.

When the first changes to IHSS took effect on November 1 for the enrollment of new IHSS providers, there was great confusion about how the new enrollment procedures would work. Our hearings revealed that this was the result of poor, conflicting, and late communications from the Department of Social Services (DSS). Further information is here.

As a result of our oversight hearings, DSS has developed a more collaborative working relationship with counties and it has begun more meaningful stakeholder consultations. This is encouraging news, especially since more program changes loom just around the corner.

But we are not out of the woods yet. We continue to face new challenges:
New provider requirements - The number of providers in "pending" status (those who have begun the enrollment process, but not yet completed it), totals 20,172. Only 9,556 providers have completed the process. The gap between providers who have and haven't met the requirements is growing wider every passing day. In order to meet demand, 385,000 current providers need to complete this process by June 30. Based on our experience to date, this looks unrealistic.
Governor wants IHSS consumers photographed – The governor’s 2010-2011 budget proposes to buy Polaroid cameras to photograph IHSS consumers in order to prevent fraud. New changes to the law require fingerprinting of IHSS consumers as of April 1, but because the administration is unable to implement this requirement on a timely basis, the governor proposes to photograph all consumers in the meantime. As I said at the hearing, IHSS consumers are entitled to a measure of privacy and the law at this time does not require photographing; my budget committee will look skeptically at this proposal.
IHSS consumers and providers are being harassed – Nancy Riley, an IHSS provider from San Diego, told the committee that an armed state investigator recently conducted a surprise anti-fraud visit to her client’s home. The investigator aggressively interrogated them and threatened to revoke her client’s IHSS services. Since the law allows anti-fraud visits to occur only after protocols are developed with stakeholder involvement, which has not begun, the committee had serious questions about this incident and we are investigating it.

With these and other significant issues to work through, it was constructive to hear DSS representatives make the following points in their testimony.
• John Wagner, Director of DSS, announced that the department will conduct a stakeholder process to provide opportunities for the IHSS community to engage the department on the issues raised at the hearing. He also announced that DSS will soon offer the Legislature budget trailer bill language relating to IHSS implementation challenges. After his department lobbied the Senate to oppose SB 69 which would have resolved these problems last year, I look forward to seeing their ideas.
• Eva Lopez, Deputy Director of Adult Programs at DSS, also announced that new materials relating to IHSS program changes will be posted on the department’s website to improve information access and transparency.

My bottom line in this discussion is that the mistakes of the past must be avoided so that all will be prepared for the significant changes to come in IHSS. The IHSS community needs to know that the ball won’t be dropped again.

Access to IHSS cannot be jeopardized needlessly because of bureaucratic fumbling. That is not reform. It’s a formula for creating a crisis that preys on the vulnerable who have a right to receive these services.

We won’t agree on everything. But we do need to work together openly and honestly. I look forward to seeing a more transparent and collaborative process in the months ahead, with better program outcomes for all involved.

All materials produced by the Assembly Budget Committee for this hearing are available here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Governor’s Budget Gets Bad Reviews

The Assembly Budget Committee met today to begin its work evaluating the governor’s budget proposal to close our state’s $19.9 billion deficit. Here are just a few preliminary observations.

The governor’s budget proposal passes the buck to Congress and, once again, balances the budget of the world’s 8th largest economy on the backs of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

The governor proposes $8.5 billion in cuts, primarily K-12 education and health and human services. And, in a breathtaking act of hostage-taking, if California fails to receive $6.9 billion in federal aid, the governor would automatically cut an additional $4.6 billion from those same services. The Legislative Analyst does not believe that California would likely receive $6.9 billion from the federal government, so the governor’s budget proposal really closes the $19.9 billion deficit from nearly $13 billion in cuts to the poorest and most vulnerable among us. This is sacrifice, but it certainly isn’t shared.

The governor seeks exemption from CEQA liability for 25 new projects per year over the next four years. The projects would be identified by the Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing. Which projects would qualify is undefined; potentially the administration could exempt a project as large, as controversial, as expensive, and with such far-reaching environmental impacts as the proposed Peripheral Canal.

In his trigger cuts, the governor would eliminate programs currently funded by Proposition 99, including Every Woman Counts which provides breast cancer screening for low-income women. Proposition 99, of course, is independent from the general fund so it is hard to know how this would help the state balance its budget. We have asked the Legislative Analyst to look into this further and it will be the subject of future Budget Committee hearings.

When asked by Assemblymember Swanson to identify waste in state government that could be eliminated to close the deficit, the administration pointed to the proposal to reduce state employee salary costs by another 5%. This proposal includes what the Governor euphemistically calls his “5-5-5” proposal, requiring state employees to give up 5% of their salaries, increase their pension contributions by 5% and directs departments to reduce their employee salaries by another 5%. The governor has stated publicly he will not negotiate these changes with employee bargaining units as required by law.

Despite stating emphatically that he would protect education this year, the governor’s proposal includes two back-door methods of cutting K-12 Proposition 98 funding by about $2.4 billion. In today’s hearing, his staff denied that the governor had promised to protect K-12 funding. What did he mean by saying he would protect education?

Like a bad rerun, this budget proposal would go back to the voters to seek approval to shift funds away from Proposition 63 and 10. The voters rejected this proposal in the failed May special election and the governor offers no objective evidence that the voters have changed their minds; nor does he have any backup plan if this proposal fails.

The citizens of this state have seen smoke and mirrors budgets before. This one rises above all the others in its cynicism, questionable savings, and faulty assumptions. The people of the state of California deserve better. Over the coming months, the Assembly Budget Committee will continue to analyze this proposal and all available alternatives in order to help craft a budget that meets the needs of this state and reflects the values and priorities of its residents.