So just how bad are the trigger cuts announced by the state yesterday?
It depends on whether you're a glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of person, I guess. But it also depends on your ability to ignore the probability that the glass is going to keep getting drained, maybe for years to come.
On the plus side, "California public schools are breathing a collective sigh of relief," reports KQED's Ana Tintocalis. "The Governor will slash roughly $80 million from public education instead of the whopping one-and-a-half billion dollars that many anticipated." The revised spending cut translates into a loss of about 13 dollars per student, said H.D. Palmer, of the California Department of Finance.
But Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers today placed the latest cuts in the context of a continuing series.
"You have to look at the cuts that they made in the budget deal in June," he said on KQED Radio's Forum program. "UC and CSU campuses already took $650 million hits each; now you add another $100 million on top of that. The social services programs took big hits and now you add new cuts. You get this cumulative fear of what these cuts mean."
Jean Ross of the California Budget Project agreed. "These (reductions) come on the heels of reductions that were made in the March and June budget package as well as reductions over the past several years. It is the cumulative impact of year after year after year of cutting that's really taking a toll on our colleges and universities, on in-home care programs, on childcare and other public services."
Under the trigger cuts, in-home care for the frail and elderly will be slashed by $100 million. "Those are services provided to people with severe disabilities," Ross said. (These cuts, however, are on hold pending a lawsuit. See Sarah Varney's report below.)
The state's school busing program was also hit hard. "Districts lost nearly $250 million in subsidies that they use to keep their buses on the road," Ana Tintocalis says. "School officials say that mid-year cut will force them to dig deeper as they try to find that money elsewhere in their own budgets."
Perhaps more depressing than the current not-as-bad-as-they-could-have-been cuts is the realization that we seem to be in the midst of a new normal, with the end of more spending reductions and the concomitant reduction in services nowhere in sight.
The Dept of Finance's HD Palmer cited figures from the Legislative Analyst's Office that the state must now close a gap of $12.8 billion over an 18-month period, and reiterated what Jerry Brown said yesterday: the January budget that he submits will be marked by further cuts.
It's true future reductions may be mitigated by voter passage of new taxes that Brown is proposing for November's ballot. A recent poll of the tax plan shows a majority of likely voters in favor, but John Myers cautioned any survey is merely a snapshot in time, and that any tax increases are historically difficult to pass. Additionally, it's possible that four or five other tax plans will be competing on the ballot with the governor's. "If you have that many proposals on the ballot," said Myers, "you're a much bigger target for anti-tax groups." Brown said yesterday that he's working to get all the pro-tax forces behind his plan.
But even if Brown manages to fill the coffers with new tax revenue, that may only slow the budget carnage. "The governor said even with this tax plan, we're looking at another $6 billion in cuts possibly," said Myers.
Myers summed up yesterday's news this way:
"Even though the governor came forward yesterday and said things aren't as bad as we thought they are, we are still missing the revenue expectation that was signed into law as part of the state budget in June. This notion that we see improvement in the economy is still relative when you see that it's still below what the governor and legislators thought they were going to have, which was a $4 billion bump in additional revenue. That did not materialize.
"Some of the data is showing that expenditures are still outpacing projected revenue in state and local governments."
Which, again, would mean...more cuts.
Listen to today's Forum program:
Also, some of the health care cuts are on hold pending the resolution of lawsuits. A judge issued a restraining order on the $100 million reduction in in-home care for the disabled and elderly, and efforts to cut payments to doctors for Medi-Cal services will be heard by the Supreme Court. Listen to Sarah Varney's report below: