Wednesday, March 09, 2011


While most of the attention has been focused on the shenanigans by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his union busting in the name of budget cutting, the fact is that most states are in dire straits when it comes to red ink. California, of course, is no exception. For the past three years, the state has been hit hard by unemployment so tax revenues have been way down. Complicating matters further, because of unusual rules on tax increases and because Republicans in the state legislature have ruled out any tax increases, the only way to stop the hemorrhaging has been rather dire cuts in services.

The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times took a look at Governor Jerry Brown's budget proposals, and and found some of them shortsighted. The editorial makes it clear that the state has no choice but to cut expenditures, but when it comes to safety net programs, a scalpel rather than a chainsaw is needed. The long term effects of too-drastic cuts could be devastating to the state.

The demand for welfare, Medi-Cal and other safety-net programs is cyclical, with costs going up during downturns as tax revenues plummet. In recent years, lawmakers have sought repeatedly to rein in spending by reducing the availability of those programs and shrinking their benefits.

More than half of the $12.5 billion in spending reductions that Gov. Jerry Brown proposed this year were in social services. Negotiators for the Assembly and the Senate restored some of that funding in their conference report, but still called for billions in cuts to healthcare, preschool subsidies, child care and welfare payments. ...

In the long run, an inadequate safety net is likely to lead to higher dropout rates, more incarcerations and less productivity by those who can't obtain needed services. That's particularly true of the money spent helping children in low-income families prepare for and stay in school. These programs aren't above scrutiny, but rather than pruning them meticulously, lawmakers have proposed deep, broad cuts.

Balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and vulnerable rather than raising taxes on those who have been the recipients of the state's largess in the past will turn out to be the more expensive way to go. The "center left" board ignored the tax issue entirely, but at least it pointed out the real costs to the state under the current proposals of the governor and the legislature. For that, it is to be commended.

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