Democratic lawmakers produced their version of severe budget cuts that will be necessary in California if the Legislature (they control) or voters (they are trying to scare) refuse to extend temporary tax hikes to help close the $26.6 billion deficit.
Some of the more shocking proposals include allowing oil drilling off the Santa Barbara Coast (environmental outage), end class-size reduction efforts in kindergarten through third grade (educators and parents), reduce wetland firefighting (headline grabber) and stop various safety programs (alarmist tactic). All this and more according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office at the request of (surprise) Democratic lawmakers.
The list goes on to include a cut of 9 percent from state employee pay and college tuition hikes (to appear fair). The proposed package total is $13.5 billion, an addition to the $12.5 billion in cuts already suggested by Gov. Jerry Brown. Interestingly, the above cuts are the headline grabbers released quickly before any sort of public debate commences..
Now come the unanswered questions about the legality of these cuts. A rattled Jerry Brown insists that such cuts are an ongoing process and “much-needed retrenchment” in spending that consistently outstrips revenues. But are they legal?
The first stop in answering the question may be with the federal government. Brown personally asked U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (definitely not the final authority) for federal waivers to allow the state to reshape federally supported “safety net” services claiming she is “receptive” thus far.
This is actually code for asking the federal government to allocate more money to public assistance (welfare) at their level, freeing California of self-legislated financial burdens. With last the swearing-in last month of a Republican House majority, the liklihood of this request in a very blue state is almost a certainty - “You're on your own.”
These expenditures represent the biggest chunk of the permanent spending cuts the governor proposes. The opposition to this is vociferous to put it mildly - something the governor is banking on. But the truly amusing part of his dramatic, media-driven plan doesn't mention a word about bankrupt state worker pensions and their politically powerful unions – Brown's most ardent supporters and last November's largest campaign contributors.
The scare tactics are intentional. The hope being it will shock voters into seeing the world through Jerry Brown's distorted and very political spectrum. There is little mentioned in the media about those who have called for deep cuts over the decades in areas that truly are now choking the life from the state's coffers. Now that the crisis is at an economic meltdown, cuts are urged in secondary locations rather than the ultimate sources.
The coming months will find a robust debate among legislators, of which a sizable majority are Democrats. It will be interesting to see if voters are fooled by this public relations blitzkrieg or send the partisan governor back to the drawing board to rethink the fate of those more culpable.
As he said during his campaign, “This time around is my last political office.” Let's see if he has the political guts to do what's right for California and no his political cronies.
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