Wyatt Buchanan
Monday, May 21, 2012

Sacramento– Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest budget proposal attempts to close a formidable $15.7 billion deficit, but the real debate at the Capitol in the next few weeks probably will be over how to cut just a fraction of the big amount.

That’s because about $2 billion in the governor’s budget represents permanent reductions in spending on state welfare, child care and other programs that Democratic leaders in the Senate and Assembly have pledged to protect.

Brown’s other budget proposals might be more controversial with the Legislature if the state weren’t facing such a large shortfall. Those include one-time solutions such as his proposal to seize almost $300 million from the national mortgage settlement that Attorney General Kamala Harris hoped to use to help distressed mortgage payers stay in their homes.

Some of Brown’s other reductions, like delaying the repayment of some loans, won’t cause a stir at all. The Legislature, which can pass a budget by a majority vote, has just under four weeks to approve a spending plan to cover the deficit by the June 15 deadline.

The scope of the dilemma faced by Democratic lawmakers and the governor was reflected in comments made by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, last week as he sought to reframe the situation by comparing it with the huge deficits of the past several years.

“I’m going to stop referring to this as a crisis,” Steinberg said. “It’s a problem.”

Not that the haggling on the relatively small permanent cuts will be easy. Both Brown and Steinberg predicted difficult negotiations, though Steinberg said, “I’m not looking for a big public fight here.”
4 touchy proposals

There are four main proposals over which Democrats and the governor are most likely to butt heads.

Those include proposed cuts to CalWORKS, the state’s welfare-to-work program; cuts to Cal Grants, which provides financial aid for low-income college students; reductions in state support for child care; and reductions to the In-Home Supportive Services program for the blind, elderly and disabled.

Brown has proposed $1.85 billion in reductions to those programs, including:

— An $880 million cut to CalWORKS by reducing from four years to two years the amount of time adults can receive welfare payments if they do not meet specific requirements for work activities.

— A $292 million cut to Cal Grants by increasing the minimum grade point average for students to qualify and reducing grants for students attending private or for-profit colleges and universities.

— A $425.5 million cut in the funding the state gives families to subsidize child care expenses, resulting in the loss of 29,600 child care slots.

— A $224.5 million cut to In-Home Supportive Services through a 7 percent reduction in hours for providers and by eliminating some services for people who are in a shared living arrangement.

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