Governor: Two Grim Budget Scenarios

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Governor Schwarzenegger released two budget proposals.  One’s bad; the other’s worse.  The first is based on voters approving the budget-related measures on next week’s ballot.  The other is the contingency plan if they don’t.  But both include billions in cuts to schools, lay offs for five thousand state workers, and loads of borrowing to keep the state solvent. 
“I understand that those cuts are very painful and they affect real lives and behind each one of those numbers are real people.”
Schwarzenegger’s budget plans also call for a shortened school year to save money, cuts to Medi-cal and the elimination and consolidation of more than a dozen state boards and departments.  That includes axing the Department of Boating and Waterways and the Integrated Waste Management Board.  To bring in some cash, the Governor says California should to sell prime state properties such as San Quentin prison, the Los Angeles Coliseum and Cal Expo in Sacramento – the site of the state fair.  
“People come up to me on the streets and talk to me about the motorcycles they have to sell off, the second car they have to sell off, a boat they have to sell off, the yard sale they had, a garage sale that they have, and this is exactly what we have to do wit the state. We have to do the same thing as the people do.”
The Governor’s Plan B – that is, if the ballot measures fail on Tuesday – is even bleaker.  It includes deeper cuts to schools and social service programs and higher fees at state parks.  It also calls for two billion dollars in borrowing from already cash-strapped local governments.  And the Governor would release 19-thousand undocumented immigrant prison inmates.  He could commute their sentences then transfer them to the federal government, who would likely deport them.
If the ballot measures pass next week, Schwarzenegger says the state’s budget deficit will be more than 15 billion dollars.  If they fail, that deficit would grow to 21 billion.  So far, voters aren’t convinced.  Most of the propositions are trailing in the polls.  
  Now it’s lawmakers’ turn to hash out a solution. 
Democratic Senator Jenny Oropeza says cuts are the only real option.  She says lawmakers need to convince the public it’s the best way to handle the state’s multi-billion dollar cash shortage... 
  “I think a lot of folks out there don’t believe it.  And, that’s because we in a sense have cried wolf. We have fixed these budgets in the past and now we have run out of fixes and we don’t believe us that we are going to fall of the cliff.  But we are going to fall off the cliff and everybody in this state is going to feel it...” 
Incoming Assembly Republican Leader Sam Blakeslee also wants to slash state spending.  He says lawmakers should also use this opportunity to fix structural problems in the budget process...  
“I would encourage folks to look at how we spend our dollars and make sure we don’t do the sorts of things that prevent us from doing our core mission which is teaching kids and keeping career criminals behind bars to protect our society...”
One budget proposal that’s getting some cheers from lawmakers involves liquidating some state property for extra cash.
Republican Assembly Leader Mike Villines  says he wants the state to put for sale signs on the Cal Expo Fairgrounds in Sacramento and San Quentin Prison... 
“I mean there’s no reason for us to hold onto any state assets at a time like this...these are properties we should be burning off and selling.  We won’t get as much as we like.  But, Californians need to see that we are serious about selling those.  We are the largest property holder in California...the state.  Is this the perfect time to sell no...but do we need the cash, Yes!”
Some groups say they want cash too for health care, social services and other programs. 
Rebecca Stark is with PICO California a children’s advocacy organization.  She says cutting kids health insurance will have many consequences... 
“kids are not going to be able to go to the doctor.  They’re going to be missing school.  Their families are going to missing work if they still have their jobs.  It’s just going to be terrible scenario for families who will just turn to emergency rooms for their care and not be able to pay...”
State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell says he’s heartsick that schools are facing billions more in cuts.  He says that will increase class sizes and force schools to downsize or eliminate arts programs. 
Some state lawmakers are looking ahead to Tuesday’s election when voters will have their say on the series of budget related propositions. 
Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg hopes voters support the measures, but he says lawmakers need to act fast if they’re defeated.  
  “my attitude is that no matter what happens on May the 19th...we wake up on the 20th and we will get to work.  We will balance this budget.  It will not be a long hot summer in Sacramento...we are going to do it relatively quickly.  It’s going to be difficult but we are going to do it...”
But, not everybody agrees with Steinberg.  Some political observers say the budget challenge is so complicated it WILL stretch through the summer and possibly into fall.