California’s Election Year Budget – An Old Bag of Tricks

Last Friday, state politicians finally voted on a state budget. The budget was due in July, but politicians took 100 extra days to pretend to deal with the state’s $19.1 billion deficit. Both Democrat and Republican politicians are telling us that this is a good budget because it closes the deficit without raising taxes or cutting education. This is a lie. This budget does what all their past budgets have done in the last few years: make ordinary people pay for this economic crisis.

Politicians are making a big show about how this budget doesn’t cut education. They are saying that it actually increases spending for education. But what they have really done is just handed out a few more crumbs to higher education and pushed the state’s K-12 system further into the gutter. The UC and CSU systems each will receive about $250 million more this budget than they did last budget. But these increases are just meager scraps compared to the billions of dollars that they have cut from higher education in the last few years.

With this new budget, state’s K-12 schools are set to receive $3 billion less than they are supposed to receive under proposition 98, which is a law that guarantees a certain amount of funding to K-12 schools. The politicians have again decided to “suspend” the law.

They also voted to delay over $2 billion in payments to K-12 and community college districts until July. This is nothing more than an election year scam. By delaying these payments until next year these politicians can appear as if they are not cutting education and push the decision to cut schools on the new governor and new legislature who will take office next year.

Delaying these payments to schools will simply shift part of the state’s deficit onto school districts. The schools that will need this money to pay their expenses will be forced to lay people off and cut services, or go into debt by borrowing money from somewhere else. Thirty-five K-12 districts and 16 community college districts in California have already begun doing this.

The politicians have used smoke and mirrors to try and hide their attacks on education. But they have made their attacks on other social services and state workers crystal clear. This budget cuts more than $1.5 billion from the pay and benefits of state workers. Under the new budget, state workers will have to contribute between two to five percent more to their pensions. These pension cuts come on top of a more than 14 percent pay cut to state workers’ salaries through so-called “furlough” days.

This budget also attacks people who are sick, disabled, or require in-home health care. Workers in the state’s in-home health services program will see their salaries cut by 3.6 percent. $60 million will be cut from AIDS treatment programs. $80 million will be cut from foster care services. In total, this budget cuts over $937 million from health and human services programs.

This election year budget is just like all the rest of their budgets. Like all of the past budgets, it just shows us the priorities of the people who run this society. California has the ninth largest economy in the entire world. 200 of the world’s wealthiest corporations are based in California. More millionaires and billionaires live in California than in any other state in the country. These politicians could choose to go into their bank accounts to fill these budget deficits, but they don’t. They choose to attack us. But we are the people who really run this society, not them. And we don’t have to accept a system that gives us a choice between crumbs or cuts.