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Budget Essay #13: Women & Children First! oops: no lifeboats....

Line Item Veto Blue(pencil)s:Women and Children First (into the drink)

by Sheila Kuehl
August 5, 2009

This second of two essays presents further information on the budget amendments passed by both houses in late July and the consequent line item vetoes by the Governor.  In this essay, I describe the line-item changes made by the Governor without agreement by the legislature and how his decision to increase the deep cuts already contained in the amended budget is impacting women, children, seniors, people with AIDS and the poor.

Since the very late budget adopted last September, the Legislature has been called upon by the Governor to engage in an unprecedented continuous session on the budget.  Even in the worst of times, previous Governors have found a way to solve the problem within a rational process, bringing all sides together for a fix, once a year.  This year has been very different, with constant broadsides from the Governor's smoking tent and three different budgets adopted so far.  Negotiations proceed only with the four legislative leaders, constantly, day after day, with little but cuts and non-budget "reforms" on the Governor's menu each time.  Finally, late last month, the Legislature was forced to adopt another bloody round of cuts with no new taxes or fees.  In my last essay, I described that budget.  Here is the rest of the story:

Last Minute Actions on Passage of the July budget

Three budget trailer bills that were expected to bring revenue into the budget passed the Senate at the very end of its final twenty-hour session late in July.  The bills then went over, with about 25 others, to the Assembly for concurrence, but were defeated there, blowing a more than billion dollar hole in the allegedly balanced budget amends.

The first would have allowed an oil drilling lease on Tranquillion Ridge off the coast of Santa Barbara which was "scored" to bring in $100 million in the budget year and 1.8 billion over all.  The bill had been drafted by the PXP Oil Company to override the State Lands Commission decision prohibiting such drilling. This Administration-sponsored version was even weaker on environmental protections than the one the oil company had brought to the State Lands Commission.  The Senate, with some arm twisting from Sen. Steinberg (who had been told, along with Speaker Bass, "You want Healthy Families? Give me the oil lease."), voted 21-18 to allow it.  The Assembly, at the end of what had been a 36-hour session for them, shot it down 43-28.

The second revenue trailer bill that failed in the Assembly would have allowed the State to "borrow" the Highway Users Gas Tax (HUTA) monies from cities and counties for ten years and throw it into the gaping maw of the general fund, rather than being used to fund shovel-ready transportation projects in cities and counties.

The third trailer bill that passed the Senate but failed at the end of the marathon Assembly session would have extended the time in which cities could use redevelopment funds and would have, additionally, allowed the state to "securitize" those future funds, that is, to borrow against them.

The failure of these bills, taken together, took about a billion in questionable revenue out of the budget (although plenty of questionable revenue remains). Apparently predicting that the governor would take these failures out on women and children, the Assembly and Senate budget trailer bills, which were already making deep reductions in the schedules for many of the safety net programs, were drafted so to as to render Schwarzenegger's predictable further cuts unconstitutional. (more about this later).

The Pen(cil) Is More Dangerous Than The Sword

Smiling in a somewhat grotesque way for the cameras, and repeatedly insisting that the Assembly had forced these admittedly callous actions by turning down his oil drilling bill, as well as his theft of local government funds, the Governor wielded his blue pencil before signing the budget amendments and deeply wounded women, children, the sick and the elderly, and poor Californians who just can't fight back.
Despite the fact that the budget he was signing cut another 16 billion dollars (about 74 billion total cuts over the past several years) from the safety net, the Governor insisted he needed to restore the phantom 156 million that the failed bills would have brought in, and keep a 500 million dollar reserve, and, therefore, just had to slash more.

All in all, he shaved an additional $489 million dollars from the budget he was signing, and these were the cruelest cuts of all, because 250 million of the cuts took the programs in the arena of Health and Human Services into newly dangerous and anemic waters.

He took nearly $80 million dollars more from the fund that pays for workers who deal with abused and neglected children.  This cut could not come at a worse time, since so many counties are experiencing the tragic consequences of their inability to field sufficient workers to identify children at risk.  He cut $60.6 million from funds used to pay for MediCal eligibility workers at the county level.

He took an additional $50 million dollars from the Healthy Families program, further devastating the one program that allows poor parents to get any kind of health care for their children ($179 million had already been cut in the budget amends and, with this additional cut, more than 900,000 children could be affected, statewide).  The Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (affectionately or not called Mr.MIB), is meeting to figure out how to deal with these cuts and may begin disenrolling tens of thousands of kids each month.

He slashed an additional $50 million (284 million was already gone in the budget amends) from services to developmentally delayed children under the age of three, the best time to get services to these kids for a lifetime of functionality.

He virtually killed a number of domestic violence shelters around the state, especially in poor, rural areas, by cutting an additional $20.4 million dollars from 94 domestic violence shelters and services centers, putting women and children all over the state in even greater risk of harm.  Many shelters are making plans to close.  He took an additional $6.3 million dollars from services to our poorest senior citizens.

He devastated AIDS/HIV services in the state by completely eliminating local assistance funding, slashing $52 million from the state Office of AIDS budget, in addition to the $30 million reduction in the budget amends. This means an 80% cut in HIV-related educational services, an 80% cut in prevention services, a 70% cut in counseling services, a 70% cut in testing services, a 50% cut in primary medical care, a 50% cut in home care and a 20% cut in housing aid.  He terminated every dollar of the office of AIDS' therapeutic monitoring program, leaving 35,000 working and middle class people with AIDS with no payments for viral load testing and drug resistance testing.

Remember, these were his own blue-pencil cuts, never agreed to or heard by any legislator.  In many cases, these were the services that an exhausted Sen. Steinberg and Speaker Bass were convinced they had saved earlier in the week.

Gumby, He Ain't

Lest anyone ever bought that Green Governor act (right after signing Fran Pavley's greenhouse gas emission bill--not the one on cars--that one was signed by Gray Davis--the one on stationary sources--he issued an Executive Order undermining the centerpiece of the bill by changing the focus from regulation to free-market cap and trade, which was not the priority in the Pavley bill), the Jolly Green Giant hit the environment and resources in his line item vetoes, too.  He took an additional $6.2 million from our state parks, virtually guaranteeing the closure of 100 of our 279 parks to the public. He gutted a program, the Williamson Act program, that allows a benefit to landowners who either preserve their land for open space or continue to use it for agriculture.  Because he did not have statutory authority to completely do away with the program, he cut it by $27.8 million, leaving a useless $1,000 in the fund.

He had already cleaned out the "bottle bill" fund that you and I think is going to encourage recycling but is now going to fill the hole left by giving the eight largest corporations in California a major tax break.

What Next?

There is a growing consensus among attorneys that many of the Governor's blue-pencil actions were not authorized under the State Constitution because he is only allowed to reduce "appropriations" and these were simply reductions in various budget schedules.  Certainly those most hard hit by his blue pencil are considering their options.  There will not likely be enough votes for an override of his cuts.  Many in the Capitol are of the opinion that the Governor broke faith with the Democratic leadership, who believed they had protected the most vulnerable from further devastation.  Trust is definitely out the window.  Perhaps the Governor was prescient in describing his health care reform plan as "more exercise and more healthy eating" the other day.  That may be as much as he will get out of a legislature less and less interested in whatever "legacy" he wishes to leave.