Friday, October 8, 2010

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the substance of the FY 2010-2011 budget, it reflects the painful compromises that inevitably result from our rigid and outdated procedural rules.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.