Thursday, January 10, 2008

Across the Board: are 10 percent cuts fair and balanced?

Yesterday Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed his budget proposal for the 2008-09 fiscal year. For months advocates have braced themselves for what the administration has repeatedly warned would be a “difficult” budget in the face of a $14.5 billion shortfall. The governor’s budget proposes to spread the pain as it were by asking nearly every agency to take a 10% reduction in revenue. This means that groups that are usually considered more or less "off limits" when it comes to reaching for the axe (ie the Department of Education or the Department of Corrections) are suddenly taking hits. But for the Health and Human Services Agency, the 10 percent comes on top of years of reduced spending, rate freezes and suspended COLAs. When taking years of budget cuts into account, in real terms we are being asked to give a lot more than 10 percent.

Misery loves company, or so they say, butthere is a big down side to seeing our friends in education and other important areas sitting on the chopping block alongside us; this means an even larger group of advocates will be walking the halls of the Capitol, turning to legislators to stave off cuts. One can't help but wonder whether we will all wind up drowning one another out.

On the positive side, many of the proposals the governor is making focus on reducing overhead or quality of services rather than kicking people out of programs or changing enrollment standards. While the typical knee-jerk reaction during hard budget times is to start kicking people out or closing the doors by capping enrollment, the administration is in many instances reducing the quality of the program for everyone rather than reducing the number of people who benefit. Of course, in other instances there are some questions about consistency and how programs are being impacted. For instance, the Food Stamps Program gets a 10 percent cut which will be taken from administrative and operational costs without reducing the benefit to recipients. The California Food Assistance Program on the other hand, which serves the state's immigrants, gets a 10 percent cut that is taken straight from the dollar amount that families receive. If a 10 percent is just a 10 percent cut, why do some families experience delays in quality (longer wait times and poor customer service) while other groups (our state's newly arrived legal immigrants) experience an actual reduction in aid?

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