By Kevin Yamamura
Published: Sunday, Jul. 1, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Sunday, Jul. 1, 2012 – 9:01 am

Gov. Jerry Brown rejected the Legislature’s first budget proposal in June because he said it was “not structurally balanced and puts us into a hole in succeeding years.”

The final 2012-13 budget agreement, however, didn’t do much to deepen the cuts. Instead, the negotiated changes focused on bridging philosophical differences and appealing to voters in November.

On welfare-to-work, for instance, the budget is counting on no immediate savings from the stricter two-year time limit because the change is prospective and does not penalize people for any time on the clock they’ve already accrued.

On child care, the deal generated $30 million more in 2012-13 savings. By eliminating Healthy Families, it shaved off $13 million.

Those savings totals amount to what Capitol insiders call “budget dust” in a $91.3 billion general fund plan. Brown found more general fund savings just out of his line-item vetoes, which cut $128.9 million by slashing state preschool and child care further, as well as CalFresh food benefits and Cal Grants for college students.

The governor held out for changes in welfare and Healthy Families that won’t really be felt for at least another year or two. And he gets to tell voters this fall that he made welfare changes that emphasize getting people back to work.

Out of this budget, “that’s mainly what he’s going to focus on,” said Jeff Cummins, a Fresno State University political science professor. “I doubt he’s going to be focusing on cutting child care slots. The total amount of savings is going to get lost in the discussion anyway, so it’s really just about ensuring he can say he cracked down on welfare recipients.”

Department of Finance officials said Thursday that most savings from the two-year time limit probably won’t be felt until January 2015, once the first cohort of new CalWORKs recipients begins losing benefits for not finding work. It remains to be seen how counties will use their power to extend benefits for one-fifth of people who exceed their 24 months.

Finance Director Ana Matosantos said the time limit will eventually save $400 million annually, just not this year.

“They restore the program’s focus on work,” Matosantos said of the changes. “The governor’s focus has been not only on balancing the budget this year but balancing the budget in the future and doing it in a manner that is sustainable.”

The state has already slashed CalWORKs grant levels and time limits. But for the last three years, the state has also saved by not providing child care, transportation and job training to parents of young children – just the types of services state leaders believe help transition people to work. In doing so, the state has allowed those parents to receive cash aid without moving any closer to work.

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