California meltdown

A (bi-)weekly flyover of the state budget crisis

All those furlough days are saving state government money, right? Well, not always. Turns out some of the furloughs are, to use the old expression, “penny wise, pound foolish.” Read on.

Oct. 14: The Los Angeles Times reports that, according to a state Senate report, furlough-induced staff shortages at state prisons and other around-the-clock state institutions are forcing tens of thousands of employees to work on their furlough days—and to be paid with IOUs that will be costly to taxpayers. In some cases—the prison health-care system, for example—the furloughs are actually costing the state tens of millions of dollars in the form of overtime and the use of private nurses and doctors.

Oct. 15: The Sacramento Business Journal reports that, on Oct. 13, the California Medical Association filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court alleging that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger overstepped his authority when he imposed mandatory furloughs for the Medical Board of California. The lawsuit contends that the furloughs are delaying the licensing of 7,200 physicians, as well as malpractice investigations, and are illegal because the board is funded through physician licensing fees, not the state general fund.

Oct. 19: District Court Judge Claudia Wilken freezes the state’s plan to cut or reduce caregiver services for some 136,000 disabled and low-income seniors, pending further hearings on arguments against the methods the state used to select the affected recipients. The cuts are intended to reduce the state budget by $82.1 million.

Oct. 20: The California Redevelopment Association files suit in Sacramento Superior Court to block the state Finance Department from carrying out a $2.05 billion shift, over two years, of tax-increment funds from local redevelopment agencies to the state. The association prevailed last month in a lawsuit challenging 2008-09 budget language that would have shifted $350 million to the state.

Oct. 20: On the same day the above lawsuit was filed, a coalition representing local government and the transportation and public-transit sectors submitted an initiative to the Attorney General’s Office that seeks to block the state from borrowing or redirecting local governments’ transportation funding. As part of the July budget revision, the state is planning to borrow $2 billion from local governments, to be paid back with interest by 2013.

Oct. 21: During a bill signing to reinstate $16.3 million in domestic-violence funding, Gov. Schwarzenegger blasts federal judges who are blocking California’s cutbacks. The judges, he said, “are going absolutely crazy” and preventing the state from solving its fiscal crisis.

Oct. 21: The three federal judges who earlier ordered the state to release some 40,000 prisoners to relieve overcrowding reject a Schwarzenegger administration proposal that instead would have cut the prison population by 18,000. The judges noted that the governor had previously advocated a plan to release 37,000 inmates over two years by such measures as home detention and sentencing changes. They gave the administration until Nov. 12 to come up with a new plan if it doesn’t want the courts taking over the prisons.

Oct. 22: The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hears a lawsuit charging that California is in violation of the federal stimulus act and other federal laws in permanently eliminating nine Medi-Cal benefits for adults, including dental and podiatry services effective July 1.