Saturday, May 10, 2008

Local organizations, agencies rally against budget cuts

With the state facing a budget deficit of as-yet-unknown proportions, organizations across the county who serve children, seniors and the disabled are becoming increasingly worried that cuts could soon close many programs.

With this in mind, representatives from nearly two dozen community organizations and city and county agencies — calling themselves the Alameda County Safety Net Coalition — warned Thursday the state's threatened cuts will have a wide-ranging effect and will not hurt just the county's vulnerable population.

"These cuts will affect everyone," said Wendy Peterson, director of the Senior Social Services Coalition of Alameda County, one of the groups making up the Safety Net Coalition. "We will all hurt, from cuts in safety net services to public services, to schools to our roads."

Peterson echoed the comments of many representatives of the coalition, saying cuts to safety net programs would be penny-wise and pound foolish. During Thursday's news briefing, coalition members pointed to the effects cuts in public and social services really would have in the long run, such as increased visits to emergency rooms that would more than offset money saved from possible cuts.

Members also voiced concerns over losing more funds for their programs than they would lose from state and local funds, since they also would lose matching federal dollars.

What cuts the state budget will bring remains to be seen. Gov. Arnold AdvertisementSchwarzenegger's May revision is due next week, but the current budget deficit seems to fluctuate daily, with people in Sacramento claiming it's anywhere between $8 billion and $20 billion.

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, addressing the coalition, said it's time the state finally, seriously addresses its budget problem, after years of delay.

"The state has basically balanced its budget with smoke and mirrors," Miley said.

He added the county is facing a $73 million budget deficit it will have to close, and it also faces more than $11 million in cuts from the state, a number that could rise with the governor's revision.

Professor Kim Geron, who teaches political science at Cal State East Bay, said the state has options other than making what he termed "short-sighted" cuts to key programs.

"There are other ways to get out of this crisis," said Geron, such as possibly raising vehicle license fees or the corporate tax rate.

Alameda County Safety Net Coalition members are supporting closing tax loopholes, eliminating tax cuts from the past decade and updating the state's tax system as ways to balance a troubled budget without cutting into social programs and directly affecting some county residents who can least afford it.

Kent Ellsworth, executive director of Bay Area Community Services, says his organization serves 4,000 in the county, and more than 1,000 of those are home-bound, low-income elderly in Oakland who need more, not less.

"These people are already on the edge," Ellsworth said. "They cannot survive any cuts in the safety net at all."

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