Yachtsmen or homeless?

Who won the state budget battle? Was it the 14 Senate Republicans whose seven-week holdout forced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto $700 million in spending? Or was it Senate Democrats, who got to watch the Republicans take major abuse for gumming up the governmental works?

Who knows? What’s clear is that the people of California were the losers. They not only ended up with a budget that is as rickety as a two-legged stool, but they also saw several vital programs get the axe.

Left on the chopping block: $300 million for Medi-Cal; $30 million for state parks maintenance; $6 million to compel Big Pharma to discount drugs for lower-income people; $1.3 million to track hospital efforts to eliminate infections, which kill more than 7,000 Californians a year; and $17.4 million to fund a plan to overhaul the state’s conservatorship system, which is plagued with fraud and abuse of seniors.

But most poignant was the governor’s gutting of the Integrated Services for Homeless Adults with Serious Mental Illness program. This highly successful program (described in “Mentally ill face eviction” in the July 5 issue of CN&R) provides more than 4,500 homeless, mentally ill Californians with permanent housing, medical and psychiatric treatment and job counseling. In the bargain, it has saved the state millions of dollars in incarceration costs.

Cutting it, the governor saved $55 million. At the same time, he kept in the budget a tax break for yacht owners; if they don’t take possession of a newly purchased boat for 90 days, they don’t have to pay sales tax. That little gift will cost the state $45 million a year.

Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the author of the bill creating the homeless program, put it best: “That’s the state of California’s budget: $45 million in tax relief for yacht owners will stay, while $55 million to save thousands of homeless mentally ill is being sacrificed. It’s wrong morally. It’s wrong economically.”