Local programs may feel California's budget pain

Officials in San Luis Obispo County foresee cuts to social services and education under Schwarzenegger’s proposal

acornejo@thetribunenews.com and sconnell@thetribunenews.comJanuary 11, 2010 

The governor’s proposed budget would cut school funding by $270 for every elementary and high school student in San Luis Obispo County and would be devastating for the elderly and poor, local social services and education officials said Monday.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal is an attempt to close what is expected to be a $20 billion difference between costs and revenues in the next 18 months.

But what the governor proposes in January and what is finally adopted are often far different.

“Even in good years, the governor’s January budget proposal is like the first hand in a poker game,” county schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said. “Then, we have two or three, sometimes four months of committee hearings in the Legislature.”

For example, Schwarz-enegger and the Legislature agreed on a combination of tax increases and cuts to help solve the budget gap last January, only to see the entire package thrown out by voters in May.

Here is how local experts in key areas expect the budget proposal will affect their work.

Social services

Throughout the budget proposal are cuts that would directly hit the poor, elderly and children, county Social Services Director Lee Collins said.

The only positive is that they would spare “the strongest amongst us,” he said.

In-Home Supportive Services would be cut entirely. Medi-Cal would be limited and participants would be called upon to share more of the costs. CalWorks, which allows those on welfare to receive child care, would be cut to save $197 million statewide.

“It is tantamount to a father’s decision to solve a family budget problem by cutting back on children’s food and cutting back on an aging parent’s medication, even if he continues his own purchase of fine wine and green fees at the golf course,” Collins said.

Locally, there are more than 1,600 clients who receive aid through the In-Home Supportive Services program, designed to allow the elderly to continue living in their homes.

Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating the program if the state does not receive almost $7 billion he says it is owed. Experts say there is no guarantee the state will receive the money.

Schools

Crocker said while the governor explained in his State of the State speech that he would not cut from schools, there are some cuts hidden in the budget details. Crocker estimates that $270 per student, or $8,100 per classroom, will be missing from local school budgets.

But Crocker said the proposed policy changes are what clearly stand out among Schwarzenegger’s proposals, some of which will be strongly challenged by unions.

For example, teachers in California must now under state law be notified by March 15 if they will be laid off the following school year.

Schwarzenegger is proposing allowing districts to have until 60 days after a state budget is approved to notify teachers.

“He’s making some policy recommendations that are going to be very controversial and might not pass,” Crocker said.

In addition, the governor is proposing doing away with seniority rules involving laying off teachers.

Crocker said the proposal to do away with First 5 funding for preschool education was in the May package of ballot measures voters rejected, but it has come back in the current proposal by the governor.

State employees

State employee union representative Chris Bricker said many workers have suffered from the 15 percent pay cut mandated through three days of furloughs a month that were part of the last budget.

Bricker, the representative for the local chapter of Service Employees International Union Local 1000, said one judge has already said imposing the furloughs was illegal. As it is, they are set to expire in June, but Schwarzenegger spoke of asking state employees for a 5 percent pay cut and another 5 percent contribution to their retirement plans.

“The state at this point has really asked enough of state workers,” he said.

“The situation gets more and more hopeless,” said Karen Harris, who has been a tour guide at Hearst Castle for three years.

Part-time employees are given leeway in using the mandated three-a-month furlough days in place of sick or vacation time, so she said her pay was not actually cut.

But a 5 percent cut would hurt, she added.

Harris said only a small percentage of the 100 guides at the castle are full-time.

“Everybody is already scraping everything they can just to keep their health care going,” she said.

Jails and prisons

One of the major proposals made by Schwarzenegger involved cutting funding for prisons and moving to a privatization model, something that the strong correctional officers union is expected to oppose.

But as another way to save money, Schwarzenegger has proposed increasing the number of individuals who go to county jail instead of state prison.

An earlier effort in that regard is leading to a change in state law effective Jan. 25, requiring that many parole violators be handled by new prosecutions and sent to county jail instead of returning to state prison.

There are an estimated 26,000 prisoners incarcerated each year under such parole violations, and the state expects to save millions from the change.

Chief Deputy Martin Basti of the San Luis Obispo County Jail said it is impossible to know how much the change might cost the county, but costs will go up.

Schwarzenegger has also proposed changing sentencing for non-violent and non-sex offense cases so that individuals are sentenced to shorter terms or can be sentenced at the county level.

Schwarzenegger also proposed an $800 million cut that may not be easy to achieve. Health care in state prisons is now handled by a federal receiver appointed by a federal judge.

The state has not been successful in the past in asking either the judge or the receiver to reduce the costs of improving health care in the prisons.

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