Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Safety-net cutbacks still a California issue

Published: Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

Proposition 30, the sales and income tax hike that Gov. Jerry Brown persuaded voters to pass last year, raised state revenue by billions a year.

The 2013-14 budget Brown proposed Thursday would spend two-thirds of it on education and most of the remainder on reducing the "wall of debt," expanding medical care under the federal health act and a small emergency reserve.

Brown also would reconfigure education spending to give local school officials more control and channel more money into educating poor and non-English speaking children.

However, the new budget and its new money don't do much to restore health and welfare programs that have seen sharp reductions in recent years. That could be a major point of friction as advocates for those services, including the unionized employees who deliver them, press the Legislature.

The budget reflects the spending priorities that Brown laid out during his campaign for Proposition 30, and makes good on what he said two years ago, when he first confronted the state's chronically deficit-ridden finances.

He proposed big cuts in "safety net" health and welfare services then, and insisted that what he called "retrenchment" would be permanent, not just a short-term gimmick to close the deficit.

"They're a retrenchment in what California was attempting to do in recent years," he said then, adding, "they look permanent to me" because "the money isn't there."

The money is there now, or at least some more money. So advocates for the affected programs, who are capable of filling the Capitol with bodies and packing budget hearing rooms, want some of it – particularly, it would seem, the portion that Brown is devoting to debt reduction, since the school finance portion is politically popular and constitutionally protected.

Much of the pressure will come from the Service Employees International Union and other unions that represent service providers, thus putting Democratic legislators in something of a bind because they are big sources of campaign money and other resources for the party's campaigns.

Standing between them and the governor are the Legislature's Democratic leaders, who gave Brown's new budget a general thumbs-up on Thursday but left little doubt that if they can, they'll try to do something about restoring the safety-net money – hoping, for instance, that an improving economy will expand revenue beyond those predicted in the budget.

But if it comes down to a confrontation over priorities – and whether it does is difficult to predict months in advance – Brown promises that he'll stick to his guns.

"It's very hard to say 'no,' and that's my job," Brown said as he unveiled the budget, adding, "Paying down debt and building reserves is the way to go."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dan Walters

Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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