Tuesday, December 16, 2008

GOP proposes deep cuts to schools, aid to needy to close deficit

SACRAMENTO — Long accused of blocking solutions to the state's fiscal mess while offering few of their own, Republican legislators responded Monday with a plan that calls for cutting billions of dollars for education, reducing welfare payments and aid for the needy and relaxing labor and environmental laws in an attempt to boost the economy.

The GOP proposal, which leaders estimate would close more than half of a projected $40 billion deficit during the next 18 months, would impose a cap of about 5 percent on the growth of state spending each year, and it would shift $6 billion from voter-approved accounts for mental health and child development programs.

"We believe it was incumbent upon us to put out a budget that shows — if we were king for a day — that we could do this in a way that does not raise taxes," Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines, R-Fresno, said.

Few of the GOP suggestions are likely to gain traction in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, and other parts would need to go before voters in a referendum next year. Still, Democratic leaders said they would at least give the plan a fair hearing.

"If it's just another hyperpartisan wish list with items unrelated to the budget, that will come out," Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said in a statement. "If there are responsible elements in the plan like the Democrats have advanced, that will come out," too.

Pressure is mounting for Advertisementlegislators to do something. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned last week that the deficit could swell to $40 billion by mid-2010 if spending cuts or tax increases aren't adopted soon.

Democratic leaders are bracing for a pre-Christmas showdown in the Legislature, with Bass threatening to keep members on the Assembly floor for all-night debates instead of letting them head home for the holidays. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has indicated he will pursue a plan that needs simple majority support rather than the two-thirds approval that tax increases require. Such a plan would likely involve a mix of spending cuts and higher fees for services.

Steinberg was a driving force behind Proposition 63, a surtax on those who make more than $1 million that funds mental health programs. The Republican plan would siphon $3.9 billion of Prop. 63 money into the general fund to help solve the deficit, an idea that would take voter approval. And it would divert $2.1 billion from an account funded by a 50-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes that is used to provide health care and other child development services.

The Republicans also call for a host of cuts to social service and health programs. Monthly grants for SSI/SSP, a program for the aged, blind and disabled, would be cut from $870 to $830 for individuals and $1,524 to $1,407 for couples. New restrictions would be placed on who qualifies for state welfare payments and health insurance for the poor and for illegal immigrants. And the Republicans would cut the amount the state contributes toward the wages of workers who provide in-home support for the aged and disabled.

In addition to about $10 billion in cuts to public schools and community colleges, the Republicans proposed a 10 percent, across-the-board spending cut for the University of California and California State University systems. They called for increasing the student-faculty ratio to 20.5 to 1, up from 18.7 for UC and 18.9 for CSU.

In a bid to stimulate the economy, GOP legislators also suggested easing several labor and environmental laws and offering new tax breaks for companies that open or expand in California. Schwarzenegger has proposed similar ideas, as well as many of the same cuts Republicans are offering, but the governor's cuts were less deep and were coupled with tax and fee increases.

Altogether, GOP leaders said their blueprint would generate $22 billion. A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the GOP plan falls short. "It's good to know what it is" that Republicans want, said Aaron McLear. "But this is a wish list; it is not a negotiated compromise."

  • Federal government runs $517M deficit in April, May
  • Budget protesters surround Capitol
  • State budget nearing approval — or is it?

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