Millions of Californians will see smaller aid checks, fewer services and higher costs as painful budget cuts ripple across every corner of the state in the coming weeks.
Author: Michael Gardner
As the Sacramento budget stalemate over extending temporary taxes continues, will lawmakers turn to fees instead as a way to raise money for the cash-short state? Previously the answer might have been an emphatic yes. But this year, thanks to new restrictions imposed by voters in November, legislators will find it harder to use fees as a substitute for taxes.
A pot tax for police? How about sin taxes for schools? California lawmakers are tip-toeing toward giving cities and schools broad new authority to ask voters those questions. But whether Democrats are truly serious or merely feinting during intense negotiations to place taxes on a future state ballot will probably not be answered until later this summer.
Just like many California families making critical checkbook decisions, the state must always balance immediate needs against planning for the future. But when times turn more turbulent, governors and lawmakers whip out the charge card with growing frequency as a way to avoid making even deeper cuts in current spending.
California’s perpetual budget battles center around the $85 billion “general fund” used to pay for schools, prisons and health welfare services. But separately there are more than 400 little-noticed accounts called “special funds” that together will spend nearly $30.5 billion in 2010-11, according to Department of Finance records.
While Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers wrestle with the budget crisis, some Californians are adamant that much of the problem can be laid at the feet of people who are in the country illegally. Their message is: stop teaching the kids, cut-off welfare checks and ship the prisoners back home. That way, billions of dollars spent on services could be put to work cutting the deficit, paying for vital programs and keeping tax increases at bay. But that’s easier said than done.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s ambitious proposal to shift responsibility for thousands of state prisoners to county jails is a complex challenge that remains elusive even as he prepares to sign legislation to launch his agenda.
While the state may be short of money, there is no drought of cash-saving ideas. But many cannot pan out politically, legally or logistically. Nonetheless, Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers have in their hands a pair of promising far-reaching sets of recommendations developed by independent state investigators. These separate proposals by the state Auditor and Little Hoover Commission have been overshadowed by the more immediate debate over spending cuts and tax extensions now playing out in the Capitol.
Five Senate Republicans have volunteered to be on the front lines of the initial budget battle this year, including weighing whether to put taxes before voters again. In doing so, those Republicans have jeopardized their political lives.
For the past two years Californians have paid more on April 15, at the cash register and to the DMV. How much more? About $260 each per year, or more than $1,000 for the average family of four.