California meltdown

A weekly flyover of the state budget crisis

Do we have a budget deal finally? Yep, but only among the Big 5, the leaders of the Assembly and Senate and the governor. Now the rest of the Legislature weighs in.

July 15: The Los Angeles Times reports that prison officials, facing severe overcrowding, have started early-releasing prisoners serving time for parole violations. Some 70,000 ex-cons are sent back to prison each year for violating parole.

July 15: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger orders department heads to eliminate 2,000 jobs on top of the 5,000 he wanted to cut as part of his budget solution.

July 15: The UC Board of Regents approves sweeping employee furloughs. They will result in pay cuts of from 4 percent to 10 percent, depending on workers’ salaries. Workers’ unions insist the university should instead dip into its $7 billion reserve to cover its $813 million shortfall.

July 16: The Sacramento Bee reports that the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association (prison guards union) has voted to give its executive council the leeway to call for a strike vote.

July 16: The state Board of Equalization estimates California could see a nearly $1.4 billion per year increase in revenues were it to legalize marijuana.

July 17: The union representing California Highway Patrol officers announces that they are getting only a 1 percent pay hike in their new contract this year. (Boo hoo, we say.)

July 17: Hundreds of local government officials meet in Sacramento for a two-day summit on state governance and fiscal reform. The theme: “Rebuilding California—From the Ground Up.”

July 17: Sources at the Big 5 budget meetings tell reporters that cities and counties will take a multibillion-dollar hit to help close the budget gap. Specifically, the state will borrow $1.9 billion in property taxes, take $1.7 billion in redevelopment funds, and $986 million this year and a similar sum in 2010-11 from the gas-tax funds used by local governments for road maintenance and repair.

July 18: The state’s largest public-employees union, SEIU Local 1000, calls for a strike authorization vote. Ballots will start going out Monday (July 20) to the union’s 95,000 workers.

July 18: For the first time since its inception in 1997, the Healthy Families low-cost health-insurance program begins turning away Californians who make too much to qualify for Medi-Cal, but not enough to pay for private insurance. The step is taken in anticipation of a cut of as much as $90 million in state aid when a budget plan is finally produced.

July 20: The Big 5 announce a deal to close the $26.3 billion budget gap. It hits seniors, children and the poor hardest, but contains no new taxes—though it does allow for new drilling off the coast. Opponents threaten lawsuits and strikes if it’s passed by the Legislature.

July 21: The Butte County Board of Supervisors votes unanimously to join other cities and counties in litigation against the state if it takes local road-maintenance funds. The county will lose $7.3 million in funding—and 52 positions in the Road Division—under the proposal.

July 21: Leaders of the California State University system vote to hike student fees by 20 percent and have employees take off two unpaid furlough days per month to help meet a $584 million decrease in state funding. Plans are made to decrease enrollment by 40,000 over the next two years.