California’s Republicans have finally released their own budget plan in response to the plan put forth by Gov. Jerry Brown. They say they have found a way to balance the state’s budget and protect education without tax extensions or increases. The only issue?
It’s short-sighted and socially irresponsible.
Despite claiming they would no longer “kick the can down the road,” the GOP proposal calls for billions of dollars in one-time solutions, and Republicans say they are not sure what next year’s deficit would look like if their plan were adopted.
Recent announcements that the state received $6.6 billion in unexpected revenue has bolstered claims by Republicans that tax extensions are unnecessary to balance the budget.
However, these claims do not look at the bigger picture.
California’s current deficit crisis did not happen overnight. The state cannot afford to make decisions without considering the long-term effects of its actions. If legislators focus solely on patching up the deficit for the time being, none of the state’s issues will be resolved, merely kicked “down the road.”
The Republican budget Band-Aid includes drawing $2.4 billion from voter-approved funds for early childhood development and mental health programs. Republicans say they would want voters to give feedback on that, but the redirection of funds amounts to $500 million more than Gov. Brown has suggested. The plan also calls for an unspecified $1.1 billion in cuts to state employment costs, and another $600 million in unspecified cuts to state operating expenses.
Reductions in funding to California’s social services will not significantly impact the state’s wealthiest residents, who possess the financial capital to obtain their own services through commercial alternatives. While the gravity of the state’s deficit ensures the people of California will have to sacrifice in order to weather the storm, cuts suggested by Republicans will disproportionately impact the poor and middle class, as well as the young and the sick.
Additionally, despite claiming education as a priority in need of protecting, the plan calls for suspension of $450 million in extra funds directed to low-performing schools aimed at improving their quality of education. As per usual, it seems legislators are placing the interests of the state’s biggest earners above equal educational access.
In an alarming element of the budget plan, Republicans also propose having the University of California take over healthcare services for state prisoners.
You may want to go back and read that last line one more time.
That’s right, Republicans in the state legislature are proposing that the crippled UC system be responsible for overseeing healthcare services for over 160,000 state prisoners.
If that sounds absurd, that’s because it is. The UC system is a dynamic research institution that was once a model for public education. It is an intellectual community with a culture of innovation and social activism. But UC president Mark Yudof is not a prison warden.
California’s prison system has drawn criticism from the public over elements of the prison guard’s contract renegotiated by Brown, including reductions in the criteria guards must meet in order to obtain a $130-a-month physical fitness bonus. Linking the operations of the UC with the prison system would create unforeseeable complications for the state’s struggling university. The UC is not equipped to handle such a responsibility, and in its current state, cannot afford the additional operational burden.
Rather than propose an alternative budget plan that ignores lessons begging to be learned from California’s current deficit crisis, Republicans should heed the call of many and allow voters to weigh in on the state budget.
A survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 56 percent of likely voters favor holding a special election granting the electorate the power to determine key elements of the state’s budget. Sixty-one percent of likely voters said they favored Brown’s approach of balancing the budget through a combination of taxes and spending cuts.
By blocking the referendum Brown called for, a referendum that would have allowed voters to decide whether or not to extend temporary taxes implemented in 2009, Republicans have directly ignored the desire of a majority of their constituents. By seeking to avoid tax extensions at all costs, Republicans have undermined the legitimacy of the state legislature. According to the Public Policy Institute’s survey, approval ratings for the legislature now hover at a measly 14 percent among likely voters. This figure contrasts with the 46 percent voter approval level enjoyed by Brown.
It is clear the people of California want a say in the budget overhaul that must take place in order to address the state’s issues. Republicans would do well to remember they serve the public, and allow voters to choose what course of action the state should take.