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Governor's proposed budget cuts would affect many in San Luis Obispo County

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May budget revision proposes to completely eliminate statewide programs that provide services to the poor, elderly and children —part of the cuts included his effort to close a $19 billion shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

The revised budget would also cut 60 percent of state money from mental health programs.

The budget does not, however, propose additional cuts to education — other than the $2.4 billion that was already proposed in Schwarzenegger’s January budget.

“California no longer has low-hanging fruits,” Schwarzenegger said during a news conference announcing the updated budget. “Now we have to take away the ladder and shake the tree.”

Schwarzenegger “has made an issue of protecting education at the expense of our other social programs,” said Julian Crocker, San Luis Obispo County superintendent of schools.

It’s unknown how the cuts will further affect cities in the county. Five of the seven cities sent more than $3.6 million from their redevelopment funds to the state this week after a judge ruled California could use the money for its educational obligations to local school districts.

A coalition, including the League of California Cities, hopes to get a measure on the November ballot that would prevent the state from future takeaways and borrowing, including from redevelopment agencies.

The budget revision is the beginning of lengthy hearings and negotiations. Much is expected to change in the coming months.

The California Constitution requires the Legislature to pass a budget by June 15 and the governor to sign it into law by July 1.

However, according to the League of California Cities, in reality, those requirements are rarely followed and the state has only met that deadline four times in the past 30 years.

Social services

The revised budget proposes to abolish CalWorks, the state’s welfare-to-work program, nearly eliminate child care for the poor, and make large cuts in home care for the elderly and disabled.

There is an average of 2,088 CalWorks cases each year — representing more than 6,000 local residents, county Social Services Director Lee Collins said. The $13 million program, which provides temporary cash assistance for families in need, is a combination of federal and state money.

“To me the governor’s approach is fundamentally unmanly,” Collins said. “It is saying to ask for sacrifice from the strong, wealthy and corporate is a burden that can’t be imposed on them, and instead they’ll extract sacrifice from the poor, ill, children and unemployed.”

Collins added that he doubts the proposal will make it far.

“If it is not dead on arrival in the Legislature, then the Legislature is not doing the job it should do by representing all of the people,” he said.

Also slated for cuts is In-Home Supportive Services, a program designed to assist the elderly and disabled stay in their homes, which serves more than 1,600 clients in San Luis Obispo County.

The program was originally slated to be eliminated and now large cuts are proposed.

“These are the kind of childish, tantrum proposals to the legislature that we should be spared,” Collins said. “What the government is saying is that our top priorities are the profits of oil companies and the needs of our children are not.”

Mental health

Jeff Hamm, the county’s Health Agency Director, said it is too soon to know what the direct effects of the proposed cuts to mental services may be. Cuts already made include the elimination of grant money to the county’s community health centers, the consolidation of two North County mental health clinics into one, fewer drug and alcohol specialists and fewer counseling services.

The county remains mandated to provide mental health services to school-age youth — but now that cost is coming out of county coffers, Hamm said.

Collins said that eliminating such services will cause more problems, and more expense, in the future.

“Do they not have any concept of the emotional damage that some of these kids have endured?” Collins asked. “To what system are these children being relegated? Do poor people and mentally challenged people simply just go to prison now?”

Education

The governor’s updated budget spares education but leaves in place proposals from his January budget. However, education funding has already been cut substantially. School districts countywide this week finalized layoff notices for 172 employees. They’ve also in recent months discussed budgets that would force districts to eliminate programs and increase class sizes.

Also, the elimination of social service programs could affect education, Crocker said.

“State-funded health and social service programs are geared at children living in poverty, and those are high-risk kids in terms of academic progress,” he said.

Crocker has estimated that $270 per student, or $8,100 per classroom, will be cut from local school budgets.

State schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell criticized the proposed $1.45 billion cut to state-funded child care.

“This cut is yet another severe blow to poor and middle-class working families who are struggling to provide for their families,” he said in a statement. “California is long overdue in creating a stable, consistent funding scheme for K-12 public education.”

The California State PTA criticized the governor’s proposal for its cuts to education as well as CalWORKs, child care and other programs for children.

“These brutal cuts jeopardize the future of our children and the future of our state,” President Jo A.S. Loss said in a statement.

Larry Kelley, Cal Poly’s vice president for Administration and Finance, said the governor’s January proposals for higher education remain intact. The governor and legislators had reduced funding for the California State University system by $305 million this year, backfilling it with one-time federal money.

They agreed to restore the money in the 2010-11 budget; so far that money is in place in the May revision, Kelley said.

Also, lawmakers had allocated $60.6 million to the CSU system that would pay for operational costs to allow an additional 8,300 students to attend college, including 480 at Cal Poly.

“The governor’s proposed budget (is) encouraging in that it reflects the value the governor puts on higher education — recognizing that California jobs need educated people,” Kelley said. “Of course, the legislative process still needs to unfold, so nothing is final as of this time.”

Students will still see fee increases next year. The state fee would increase $134 per quarter to $1,476 from $1,342. The overall fee, including student fee increases, will be $2,226 per quarter next fiscal year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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