California meltdown

A weekly flyover of the state budget crisis

So you think the state is out of the financial woods, eh? Ha, ha. Not a chance. So many people are picking at the governor’s July budget revisions that they’re certain to unravel. Here’s a rundown of the week that was.

Aug. 13: A coalition representing the disabled and disadvantaged files a lawsuit in the San Francisco Appeals Court against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over the $489 million in line-item cuts he made to the budget revision on July 28. On Aug. 11, state Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) had filed a personal suit against the governor, charging he overstepped his authority by vetoing provisions in the package that were revisions to past appropriations, not appropriations themselves.

Aug. 13: In a bit of good news, state Controller John Chiang announces California’s cash flow is good enough to enable him to stop issuing IOUs on Sept. 4, a month earlier than expected. Altogether, he has issued interest-bearing warrants totaling $1.95 billion.

Aug. 13: That good news is followed almost immediately by this bad news: Hundreds of thousands of poor children will begin losing their Healthy Families health-care coverage beginning Oct. 1. The California First 5 Commission announced the day before that it is contributing $81.4 million to Healthy Families, the state’s version of the federally funded Children’s Health Improvement Program, which provides health-care insurance for children whose families are too poor to afford it but earn too much to qualify for Medi-Cal. But the First 5 funding applies only to children up to age 5, so Healthy Families must begin disenrolling as many as 400,000 kids unless more funding is found.

Aug 16: Lawmakers return from their annual summer recess to work on things other than the budget for a change. Problem is, they have little money to spend, face daunting issues such as prisons, water and pension reform, and have only 19 days before the year’s session ends. Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) vow to push for restoration of the $489 million in line-item cuts.

Aug. 17: State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles) announces she is joining Steinberg’s suit against Schwarzenegger’s line-item-veto cuts, noting that the non-partisan Legislative Counsel Bureau has determined the cuts violate the state constitution.

Aug. 18: Democrats in the Legislature announce that they intend to take up a plan that is designed to reduce the state’s prison inmate population by 27,300 and cut $1.2 billion from the corrections budget. Schwarzenegger supports the plan, but the Republican caucus opposes it, preferring instead to build more prisons (with all the money the state doesn’t have).

Aug. 18: California State Parks, attempting to recoup some $14.2 million cut from its budget, announces hikes in park fees. It will now cost kids $3 (up $1) to tour Bidwell Mansion and adults $6 (up $2). Day use at Bidwell-Sacramento State Park increases by a dollar to $6, and campsites at Woodson Bridge go from $14 to $25.

Aug. 18: The Glenn County Board of Supervisors, wrestling with a $2.1 million deficit caused in part by the loss of $900,000 in state Williamson Act subvention funds, learns balancing the budget will require the equivalent of a 24 percent pay cut for all county employees.