Details of the budget agreement that will be voted on later today or possibly tomorrow began leaking out late Wednesday. Links to an analysis prepared by the Assembly Budget Committee and bill text made public – thank you – by the Senate Republican Caucus confirm that the devil is in the details and the details are worse than we’d previously been led to expect. In brief, the proposed agreement reverses four decades of progress across a range of policy areas, from social welfare to higher education and the environment. Some of the policy changes that stand out include:
- Eliminating statutory cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for CalWORKs and SSI/SSP grants and COLAs for the University of California and California State University systems. While these have often been suspended in tight budget years, the existence of the statutory provision provides a reminder that inflation erodes the purchasing power of grants and program allocations. It is worth remembering that the provision providing cash assistance COLAs for poor families that this agreement will repeal was signed into law by none other than Ronald Reagan during his time as California’s governor.
- An end to a forty-year moratorium on new offshore oil drilling. The new lease is anticipated to raise $100 million. This amount stands in stark contrast to the nearly $1 billion that would be raised by the oil severance tax proposed earlier in budget negotiations and later abandoned.
- Elimination of General Fund support for state-supported immunization programs. Remember this when the anticipated flu epidemic hits this fall. The $18 million in savings makes a measly contribution to the total $24 billion of budget “solutions” but could mean the difference between life, death, and much larger costs for treating diseases that didn’t need to happen.
- Deep cuts in support for the Healthy Families and Medi-Cal programs that will, among other things, result in hundreds of thousands fewer Californians with health coverage. This will mean a further battering of the health care safety net at a time when an increasing number of Californians are looking to public programs for assistance due to the loss of a job and/or job-based health coverage.
The proposed borrowing from local governments will lead to a further squeeze on programs that assist vulnerable Californians, as counties attempt to cope with fewer state dollars for a host of programs, a loss of property tax dollars, and lower local revenues due to the economic downturn. That shoe will drop over the upcoming weeks.
I’ve always proudly advertised the fact that I was born and raised in California and educated by the state’s public schools from kindergarten through graduate school. Unfortunately, this budget agreement marks a rolling back of similar opportunities for the current and future generations of young Californians.