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Resources for Making Sense of the State Budget Debate

| January 17, 2011
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News on the beast that is the state budget has been coming in fast and furious and frankly I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

To that end, I thought Friday’s This Week in Northern California provided a good rundown of just where we are in the process and what’s at stake. Panelists were Jill Tucker, education reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Sarah Varney of KQED News, and Jesse McKinley, the San Francisco Bureau Chief for the New York Times. They talked about the choices the state is facing and the drastic cuts that Governor Jerry Brown is calling for in higher education and Medi-Cal.

For an even wonkier look, Friday’s Capital Notes podcast with KQED’s John Myers and the L.A. Times’ Anthony York delved into the nitty gritty of the politics and policy behind the debate.

For a simple look at what’s on the budget-balancing table, the Sacramento Bee has posted a slideshow that outlines the different cost reductions and tax extensions Brown has proposed. The paper has also put together a timeline that will follow the process over the course of 60 days, which is Brown’s unbelievably ambitious goal for sealing a deal.

Here’s an interesting game you can play. The L.A. Times has put up a “California budget balancer,” at which eliminating the deficit is as easy as sliding a bar to the right to cut the spending you want. You can then discuss your choices in this online forum.

I eliminated the deficit simply by sliding all the bars as far as they could go, eliminating the maximum amount of spending. Temptingly simple when all you’re doing is looking at sets of numbers. But if you start looking at just who those cuts will affect and how, it’s a different ballgame:

  • The human cost of cuts (Santa Rosa Press Democrat)

    The 45 participants in the program at Friends House, run by Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, range from age 40 to 95. None of them can drive, about half are in wheelchairs and the others need canes or walkers. They need help with daily activities, such as showering, grooming, dressing, eating and using the bathroom.

    Some are in pain, some are partially paralyzed by strokes and many are unable to control their bodily functions.

    In their four-hour days at Friends House, they receive medical care, speech and physical therapy, help with personal hygiene, lunch and recreation, including card games and exercise.

    If the program closed, 11 of her clients would wind up in nursing homes and 18 — no longer under regular nursing supervision — would make more frequent trips to hospital emergency rooms, another cost the governor’s budget does not consider, Beer said.

  • Medi-Cal recipients to be hit hardest by state cuts (SF Chronicle)

    Three years ago, Pitts, 58, had a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. He comes to the center four days a week for occupational and physical therapy.

    “Look at me now,” he said in a booming deep voice, nearly straightening out his left arm toward the ceiling.

    He would be forced by the proposed budget cuts to choose among the eight prescriptions he requires every month for ailments ranging from nerve damage in his arm to high blood pressure.

    “I don’t know what I’d do,” he said. “I need them all.”

  • Cuts to wildland firefighting teams loom (San Jose Mercury News)

    (Brown’s) plan calls for reducing the number of firefighters on CalFire engine crews from four to three, putting them back to staffing levels that existed before massive wildfires charred the state in 2003. It also would shift to cities and counties a significant amount of firefighting responsibility that CalFire now oversees…Already, local officials are looking on nervously at the potential costs.

    “We’re very concerned if it actually happens,” said Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith. “These are the areas where you tend to get big fires, and they are very difficult fires to fight because they are often in hilly terrain without good roads or access.”

    News stories like these are all over the place. Keeping tabs on just what will be lost and by who will not be easy…

    So as you follow what will certainly be an agonizing debate, these resources may serve you well to start:

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  • Earl Richards

    There is very little difference between Brown’s budget proposals and previous budgets, because Brown’s budget is master-minded by the oil industry. There is no provision for closing corporate and commercial tax loopholes, no oil extraction tax and no oil corporation, windfall-profits tax. Californians pay the highest price for gasoline in the nation. Brown’s budget is the same, because again, it picks on the most vulnerable. Jerry appears to be working for Big Oil and not for the Californians who voted for him.