California meltdown

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

The meltdown went positively volcanic this week, as UC students by the thousands protested steep tuition hikes, dozens were arrested, and we learned the state again faced a huge budget deficit that would last for at least five years.

Nov. 11: The Sacramento Bee reports that, according to the Pew Center on the States, nine other states are facing “some of the same pressures that have pushed California toward economic disaster.” With California, they represent one-third of the nation’s population and economic output.

Nov. 12: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warns that the state budget deficit could swell to more than $14 billion, and that deeper spending cuts will be needed to close it.

Nov. 12: Bowing to a court order, the Schwarzenegger administration submits a plan to reduce the state’s prison-inmate count by more than 40,000 in two years.

Nov. 13: The online site California Healthline reports that state officials are concerned that health-insurance reform could require the state to expand its Medi-Cal program, adding as many as 1.6 million new enrollees. “… [W]e can’t afford our current program,” said a top state health-care official.

Nov. 17: California Progress Report, an online news and opinion site, reports students in the UC system are planning a three-day protest action to coincide with a Board of Regents meeting Nov. 20 at UCLA. Also, California State University students are planning to protest a proposed system-wide enrollment cut of 40,000 at the Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 18 in Long Beach.

Nov. 18: The Sacramento Bee reports that, because of state cuts, as of Oct. 1 about 9,000 elderly and disabled Californians are required to pay significantly more to receive the same level of care through the In-Home Supportive Services program. Disabled-rights advocates charge the cuts could drive people into nursing homes, costing the state more than it saved.

Nov. 18: The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office forecasts that the state faces annual budget deficits of around $20 billion, beginning with a $20.7 billion shortfall through June 2011. The state’s general-fund budget is now $84.6 billion.

Nov. 18: State university trustees approve a budget that’s $900 million higher than the current $2.3 billion budget, in effect challenging the Legislature to cut it. The system’s budget has been slashed $625 million in the past two years, resulting in layoffs, furloughs, reduced enrollment and student fee increases.

Nov. 19: Attorney General Jerry Brown gives the legal OK to the state salary-setting commission’s recommendation that lawmakers’ and top elected officials’ pay be reduced by 18 percent. The cuts will take effect next month.

Nov. 20: A daylong occupation of a classroom building at UC Berkeley results in the arrest of 41 students. Meanwhile, at UCLA, where 14 students were arrested on Nov. 18, the Board of Regents approves the 32 percent fee hike, bringing fees to more than $10,000 annually.

Nov. 20: Chico State University President Paul Zingg tells a local business group that student enrollment at the university will be cut by 8 percent next year, resulting in an estimated $46 million hit to the local economy and the loss of 486 jobs (see our report).