California meltdown

A weekly flyover of the state budget crisis

In all the bad news this week, a ray of light (see the Healthy Families item for Aug. 28).

Aug. 26: The San Francisco Chronicle reports that state finance officials told lawmakers on Aug. 25 that California will be unable to collect nearly $1 billion in revenue through the next fiscal year because state employees who collect unpaid taxes cannot keep up with their workloads due to furloughs and budget cuts. The amount is nearly equal to the money being saved by furloughing all state employees three days a month.

Aug. 27: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger orders that furloughs of California Highway Patrol dispatchers be rescinded. The action was taken following reports that many of the CHP’s nearly 900 dispatchers had failed to meet federal standards in answering 911 calls.

Aug. 28: The Sacramento Bee reports that a new nationwide compilation of transportation data indicates that California’s roadways are in worse repair and more congested than those of other states. “It reveals, for instance, that 17.2 percent of California’s roadways are considered to be in ‘poor condition,’ compared to the national average of just 5.8 percent, and traffic delays are considerably worse than those in other states,” the Bee reports.

Aug. 28: State lawmakers take first steps to reach a bipartisan solution to prevent more than 500,000 low-income children from losing their health insurance through the Healthy Families program. The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a bill that would increase the share of costs participating families pay and create a gross premiums tax on the companies that manage Medi-Cal insurance premiums. The companies, which will enjoy a larger deduction in taxes beginning Oct. 1, support the bill.

Aug. 30: The Sacramento Bee reports state officials say that, in a week or two, they will begin shutting down about 100 state parks. The shutdowns will have a disproportionate impact on the many small towns for whom nearby state parks are a major economic draw and source of community pride.

Aug. 30: The Los Angeles Times reports that, as a result of furloughs, many state workers “now find themselves falling short on mortgages, relying on handouts for food and staring into the abyss of bankruptcy.”

Aug. 31: The Service Employees International Local Union 1000, which represents some 90,000 state workers, files its fifth furlough lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court. The complaint argues that the governor’s furlough order is an illegal usurpation of legislative authority and violates employment agreements.

Aug. 31: In a different case, a San Francisco Superior Court judge issues a tentative ruling in favor of SEIU 1000, finding that the 7,900 State Compensation Insurance Fund employees are exempt from the furlough.

Aug. 31: The Assembly approves a plan for cutting prison spending that is much pared down from the Senate version passed a week earlier. The Assembly version will save $220 million less than the amount required ($1.2 billion) under terms of the July budget revisions. The bill will now go to concurrence with the Senate.

Sept. 1: Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office announces he will file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court of a federal order to reduce the state’s prison population by more than 40,000 inmates.