California meltdown

A weekly flyover of the state budget crisis

The governor signed some $26 billion in budget revisions, so the state’s budget crisis is over, right? Hardly. There was plenty going on this week that pointed to more problems down the road.

July 28: On the day Gov. Schwarzenegger signs the revisions, Chico State University President Paul Zingg conveys the bad news in a memo to the campus community. The gist: a 20 percent student fee hike ($1,000 on the year); two furlough Fridays a month for employees; a 9.5 percent drop in enrollment. The university will also be making an additional $6 million in campus-based cuts.

July 28: The California Association of Area Agencies on Aging charges, in a press release, that the governor’s excising of $10 million in funding for aging programs “essentially destroys the infrastructure of the aging network and cripples the local service delivery system that serves over 4 million California seniors.”

July 29: Butte County’s Catalyst Domestic Violence Services announces that the governor’s final budget eliminates all state domestic-violence funding ($20.4 million). The loss to Catalyst: nearly $250,000, one-third of its funding. “State funding to domestic-violence programs has been proven to save lives, and also millions of dollars in health care, law enforcement and other social costs,” says Anastacia Snyder, Catalyst’s director.

July 31: The Secretary of State’s Office gives the green light to begin gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to lower the vote requirement for passing a state budget or raising taxes from two-thirds to a three-fifths supermajority.

July 31: The Sacramento Bee reports that the state’s Healthy Families low-income health-insurance program is searching for additional funding, after budget cuts reduced its funding by $178.6 million, putting 900,000 children at risk of losing their health insurance. One possible source? The First 5 California Commission, which has $2.5 billion in revenue already collected from a 50-cent surcharge on cigarettes. In May voters turned down an initiative that would have directed some of that money into the general fund.

July 31: The Chico Enterprise-Record reports that, because of state budget cuts, many drug addicts in Butte County will now have to pay for their treatment, heretofore free under the terms of Proposition 36, or face going to jail. “This has been a very successful program,” Deputy District Attorney Dan Nelson told the newspaper regarding Prop. 36. “We should be spending more, not less, on these people.”

Aug. 2: Service Employees International Union local 1000, with 95,000 members the largest state workers’ union, votes to give its leaders permission to call a strike.

Aug. 3: The U.S. Census Bureau issues a report indicating that, based on 2006 data, California has the nation’s fourth-lowest level of medical insurance, with 21.3 percent of its residents younger than 65 lacking coverage.

Aug. 3: The Contra Costa Times reports that the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office has begun telling judges that it can’t represent certain defendants because, in the wake of budget cuts, it lacks sufficient money and staff members.

Aug. 4: A three-judge panel of federal judges orders the state to reduce its prison population, now at 170,000 in space designed for half that many, by 40,591 in the next two years. “The convergence of tough-on-crime policies and an unwillingness to expend the necessary funds to support the [prison] population growth has brought California’s prisons to the breaking point,” the judges’ ruling says.