Even if lawmakers approve a California budget deal in floor votes expected this week, advocates say they've just begun to fight big cuts in the works for redevelopment agencies, developmentally disabled services and other swaths of the state budget.
Attorneys are already preparing lawsuits challenging Gov. Jerry Brown's proposals on the grounds that they violate voter-passed constitutional amendments and long-standing state laws.
If successful, the legal actions could cost the state currently trying to fill a $26.6 billion hole about $2.4 billion.
Those areas already under scrutiny for lawsuits include proposals to create standards for serving developmentally disabled people, and to eliminate redevelopment agencies and end enterprise zones.
"We're going to sue," said attorney Marty Dakessian, who represents local governments, chambers of commerce and other members of a coalition titled Communities to Save Enterprise Zones.
Dakessian argued that Brown's proposal to eliminate enterprise zones violates agreements involving the state, local governments and businesses lured to the zones by hiring tax credits, operating loss deductions and other incentives. He said elimination would amount to "contract clause" violations.
Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer responded that promising businesses tax credits is not the same as entering into a contract.
"We've reviewed it and we believe we can go forward in a manner that's consistent with state law," Palmer said about Brown's budget.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ran into similar trouble when advocates successfully challenged his cuts, including a $600 million reduction to the In-Home Supportive Services program that provides in-home care for low-income aged, blind and disabled people.
The courts also delayed $256 million in cuts to a child-care assistance program for low-income families.
In fact, the post-Legislature legal battle has become a fixture of the yearly budget wars, said Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan, Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.
"Any time you talk about big money, people will be scouring the law books and past cases to save their programs," Stern said. "I think there's going to be a lot of creative solutions and a lot of creative lawsuits this year."
Advocates for developmentally disabled people said they believe Brown's proposed cuts, which originally targeted $750 million in savings, violate 1969 Lanterman Act requirements for state care for people with such disabilities.
Proposed statewide purchase-of-service standards, in particular, conflict with the Lanterman Act's requirement that people receive tailored, specialized care, advocates said.
"Everything's based on individual needs," said Boyd Bradshaw, head of a coalition of 1,200 service providers. "So if everything's standardized, you lose the individual part of the services."
State officials are still crafting the standards and won't have final proposals until at least the end of April.
"We will strive to keep the cuts as far away from the clients as possible," said Department of Developmental Services spokeswoman Nancy Lungren. "And we will not violate the law."
The fiercest legal battles promise to pit Brown against cities opposed to his plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies.
That move would save the state an estimated $1.7 billion in the next budget year, according to the Governor's Office.
League of Cities Executive Director Chris McKenzie said eliminating redevelopment agencies would violate voter-approved Proposition 22, which barred the state from borrowing or taking funds used for transportation, redevelopment or local government projects and services.
McKenzie said his group, along with redevelopment agencies and other parties, plans to sue if the governor makes the cut.
"If they are going to directly violate Proposition 22 within months of the voters telling them how to vote, then they will have to deal with the consequences of an outraged electorate," McKenzie said.
State officials argue that the governor's plan doesn't contravene Proposition 22 because property tax money freed up by the elimination of redevelopment agencies would stay in local jurisdictions.
"The money is not leaving the county," Palmer said.
With the budget endgame still under way, some of the lawsuit talk is likely meant to sway lawmakers hammering out the budget, Stern said.
"They're threatening and saying, 'Here's our case for not cutting,'" Stern said. "They'd rather have it not cut than file a lawsuit."