Gov. Jerry Brown has Kevin Johnson worried.
“I voted for the man, and he’s looking rough,” Johnson said on a wet February morning as he brought his mother to the County Public Health Services building on Johnson Avenue in San Luis Obispo. “He looks like he’s going to cut and cut. I worry about what will happen to my mom.”
Johnson, an Oceano resident, may be right to worry about the governor’s proposals to balance the state budget. His elderly mother depends on In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), a state government program that helps the elderly, the blind, and the disabled by providing support services at their residences. If the governor succeeds in his proposed cuts, $486 million will be slashed from IHSS. This will likely be a devastating blow for the program—and potentially for Johnson’s mother.
“I thought he was going to come up with a different plan [to fix the budget],” Johnson said, shaking his head. “A plan that wouldn’t hurt poor people. I just didn’t think he was going to try and cut so much.”
To many Californians, Brown’s budget cuts came as a surprise. His father was Pat Brown, a California governor who knew how to spend money—he built much of the state’s university system in the ’60s. Those were different times, and Jerry Brown, it seems, is a governor for the new age of austerity.
Brown entered office a month ago and confronted a $26.6 billion shortfall, the largest deficit in the history of the state. He proposed dealing with the deficit in two ways: a radical $12 billion slashing of the budget and a public vote on a continuation of sales and personal taxes, which should bag another $12.5 billion to fill the gap.
The people of California have never had to face cuts like these before. The cuts are so widespread, they’ll likely affect everyone.
Dan Buckshi, assistant county administrative officer for SLO County, is worried.
He’s the right-hand man for Jim Grant, the county administrator.
“The short answer is we don’t know exactly what we are facing,” Buckshi said. “In the next week or two, we will know.”
Buckshi was referring to March 11, the legal deadline for the state Legislature to decide whether it wants to put Brown’s tax proposal to a public vote for a June election. Though the details aren’t set, Buckshi said he knows the cuts will be deeper than anything anyone has ever seen in California. Counties are responsible for running many of the social services in the state.
Brown proposed a $1.7-billion cut to Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program that provides 7.7 million people with health care at no or low cost. He also wants a $750 million cut from the Department of Developmental Services, which will impact the 244,000 people with developmental disabilities who largely depend on government support.
Cal-Works, the welfare-to-work program, is facing a $1.5 billion cut. This would be accomplished by limiting the period families can receive assistance from five years to four.
The Cal State University System and University of California would each have to make do with $500 million less than the year before.
The prison system would face a cut of $563.8 million.
If these cuts weren’t severe enough, Buckshi said the state is trying to unload prisoners—37,000—to be distributed back to county jails. That could amount to several hundred prisoners added to the already overcrowded SLO County jail. High-risk juvenile offenders who are usually housed in state facilities could also be returned to the local level.
“The key thing is that it’s a shift of responsibility to the counties,” said Buckshi, who doesn’t relish the prospect. He said it looks like the state will transfer $10 billion worth of budgetary responsibility to counties, but only provide $6 billion to pay for it.
A more foreboding question for Buckshi is: What happens if Brown’s four-year tax extension fails to get approval?
“He will make $12.5 billion in cuts to education—K-12, colleges, and state prisons, too,” Buckshi said. “I imagine counties would be hit as well.”
The coming of billions of dollars in cuts to the state doesn’t sit well with Johnson. He said he understands the state needs to balance its books, but he wondered if the costs could be too great: “What kind of people are we if we don’t care for people who can’t take care of themselves?”
Staff Writer Robert A. McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.