Hope you’re fine with the county parks and open space preserves: Once again Gov. Schwarzenegger thinks cutting $70 million in parks funding will somehow close the gap on a $20 billion deficit.
This is clearly a political stunt like it was the last time, but the stakes are far higher: California’s budget is hostage to income tax and sales tax revenues. When the economy slides, the state’s revenues nose-dive. The state will run out of cash next month if spending isn’t brought in line with revenues. Deficits are truly out of control now.
Faced with a ballooning deficit and a clear signal that voters won’t pay more to fix it, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a budget plan Tuesday that would eliminate welfare, drop 1 million poor children from health insurance, cut off new grants for college students and shut down 80 percent of state parks.
In a state that long has prided itself on its social safety net, it could well go down in history as the most drastic reduction in social programs ever. And billions in further cuts will be unveiled later this week.
The governor’s proposal to whack an additional $5.5 billion from state programs stunned even longtime Capitol-watchers with its blunt force. Ending cash assistance for 1.3 million impoverished state residents, for example, would make California the only state with no welfare program.
“Every single first-world nation has a safety net program for children,” said Will Lightbourne, Santa Clara County’s social services director. “This would return us to the era of Dickens — you’d have to go back to the 19th century to find a comparable proposal.”
Proposing eliminating welfare and gutting aid to college students — like closing the state parks — hits voters where they live. While most of us middle class types don’t know any poor families that depend on state aid, we don’t want the state to let them starve. Nor do we want our state parks (which spend hardly anything in the grand budget scheme) shut down. And we’d prefer the state help us out with the skyrocketing cost of a college education.
Californians did a funny thing a few years back, as if they understood that they’d tax their neighbors (but not themselves) all the way to 100 percent if somebody let them. They voted in a law that says all tax increases must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature. That came after passing a law way back (Prop. 13) saying property taxes didn’t have to keep pace with property values.
So now we’re in a situation where the small minority of lawmakers from Republican districts are standing in unison saying “we’ll bankrupt the state before we allow a tax increase” and everybody else is kinda/sorta nodding in agreement because raising taxes in a recession would be a bad idea anyway.
Frankly, state parks are the least of our worries in a crisis of this magnitude. The state can’t keep borrowing $20 billion a year to finance its deficits, but it also can’t really afford to cut spending when so many people are already out of work. It’s the worst of all possible worlds.
California can’t save but a pittance on parks because keeping them closed is not much cheaper than leaving them open so we of the hiking tendency might not suffer all that much.
Of course, something has always managed to bail Californians out of all previous crises like this one. Let’s hope the magic works again.