Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What might Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget mean for rural CA?

Facing a budget deficit of $25 billion, last Monday California governor Jerry Brown announced his 2011-2012 state budget proposal, which was both lauded and criticized for its honest and stark ideas for getting the state out of the red.

In addition to calling for $12.5 billion in higher education and health program cuts and $12 billion in new taxes, the governor’s proposal lays out a plan for restructuring the relationship between Sacramento and local governments. As Brown explained in his proposal:

The budget proposes a major shift in the state‑local relationship by reversing the trend of consolidating control and budget authority in Sacramento. When fully implemented, this proposal will restructure how and where more than $10 billion in a wide range of services are delivered.

As expected, the Left has taken issue with the reduction in social services and the Right has insisted the tax increase is unrealistic. No matter the political maneuvering, what might the budget proposal actually mean for rural California?

Proposed cuts include the following:
  • For Healthy Families recipients: increased premiums, increased co-pays for ER visits and hospital stays, and elimination of vision care.
  • For CalWorks recipients: enrollment reduced from five years to four years, grants reduced by $90/month per family of three, and reduced funding to counties.
  • For SSI-SSP recipients: grant reduced by $15/month for low-income elderly, blind and disabled individuals.
  • For Medi-Cal recipients: new requirement of co-pays, limits on doctor visits, spending caps on certain medical equipment and non-life-saving drugs, elimination of adult day care services, and reduced rates paid to health providers by 10 percent.
  • Developmental Disability services will face $750 million worth of cuts in 21 regional centers.
  • Most local libraries’ state funding will be altogether eliminated and low-attendance state parks will be closed.
  • Over $1 billion in local transportation revenue will be used to pay state transportation bonds.
  • Over $900 million in business tax relief in depressed areas previously designated as enterprise zones will be eliminated.
  • Local governments will be required to house juvenile offenders after the state Division of Juvenile Justice is eliminated in June 2014 and county jails will be required to take on some state prison inmates.
Because rural areas often include many of the poorest Californians, the social services cuts will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the rural parts of the state. Increased reliance on local governments will also put a strain on already-overstretched rural counties.

Consider the impact of just one example: the state prison-to-county jail transfer. The governor's plan to transfer many state prison inmates to county jails ignores the fact that county jails are themselves overcrowded. While jail overcrowding is a significant issue in cities, rural areas face the same obstacle. For instance, jails in Sacramento, Placer, Yolo and El Dorado counties are all at least at 90% capacity. In Yolo County last fall, the county had to release about 30 inmates early due to budget constraints. Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto explained:
We're maxed out pretty much all the time. The only thing we could do is release county inmates to make room for state inmates.
The governor's budget, if passed, will only require more rural areas to ignore their locality's security concerns in light of the economic realities of running a county jail.

On one hand, the budget may be hailed as a much-needed tightening of California's fiscal belt. But as the LA Times' Editorial Board points out, perhaps the cuts are too reliant on already-strained rural residents and their local governments. Both are struggling with the impact of a years-long recession that has only deepened and prolonged the poverty already rampant throughout rural California.

As the governor attempts to garner political and popular support for his plan across the state, the potential effects of the proposed budget on rural Californians may come to light. Whether such effects matter to those in Sacramento remains to be seen.

1 comment:

Jon di Cristina said...

This touches on an important theme from the debate over the Bush-era tax cuts. How much are we willing to cut before we acknowledge that it's important to pay (through taxes) for certain government services in a civilized state? How far are we willing to let our neighbors slip before we step in as a political community?