Governor Schwarzenegger forced to slash the state budget by $14.5 billion

It looks like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has no choice but to make massive cuts, as the state tries to deal with a massive debt of over $14 billion. Here are some excerpts from the Sacramento Bee regarding his proposals:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday proposed a $101 billion spending plan that cuts virtually every function of state government to close a $14.5 billion budget gap.

“We are facing a very tough situation, but with tough times come historic opportunities,” the governor said. “I am convinced the Legislature will help turn today’s temporary problem into a permanent victory for the people of California by joining me to enact true budget reform.”

The budget plan asks lawmakers to close state parks – including Sutter’s Fort, the state Indian Museum and the historic Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento – release prisoners, dramatically pare school funding, reduce Medi-Cal health services to the poor and reduce aid to the low-income blind, elderly and disabled.
A 10 percent across-the-board cut Schwarzenegger promised weeks ago would hit almost every department – even the Legislature and the courts – and save about $9 billion next year and $217 million for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency and called for some of the cuts to take effect before the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.

The budget anticipates a reduction of about 7,086 state employees over the next 18 months – 6,054 of them from the prison system.

The Republican governor’s plan also would close 48 parks, reduce lifeguard service at some state beaches, and ask lawmakers to suspend schools’ constitutional funding guarantee under Proposition 98 for $4 billion in savings for the fiscal year beginning July 1. He’s proposing $400 million in cuts to schools in the current fiscal year.

It is certain to draw fire from the full range of advocates at the Capitol, particularly powerful education groups and teacher unions.

As reported weeks ago, the plan calls for the early release of 28,408 lower-risk prisoners at a savings of more than $1.1 billion over the next two years. The released inmates would be classified as non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offenders.

The releases would require “necessary statutory changes” and would begin in March. They would involve inmates who are in the last 20 months of their terms. Some 18,522 more released offenders would no longer be subject to parole supervision.

The cuts in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would force the layoffs of 6,054 correctional employees over the next two years. The administration says the early releases and staff cuts would save the state $17.9 million this fiscal year, $378.9 million in 2008-09 and $782.7 million in 2009-10.

The administration also is proposing to cut the corrections’ department’s grant funding to local agencies by another $24.6 million. The grant would reduce funding for the popular Juvenile Probation and Camps Program that have provided services to offenders and their families in all 58 counties.

Schwarzenegger also is asking for $1 billion in Medi-Cal spending cuts by reducing providers’ rates and eliminating adult dental services.
The plan also would borrow to help the state out of the hole by selling the remaining $3.3 billion in Economic Recovery Bonds authorized by voters in 2004. In addition, Schwarzenegger plans to defer the early debt payment on the bonds scheduled for 2008-09 for another $1.5 billion in savings.

Still, Schwarzenegger asked the Legislature to place $28.3 billion in bonds on the November ballot to join a $10 billion measure for high-speed rail: $6.4 billion for schools, $7.7 billion for higher education facilities, $11.9 billion for water facilities and $2 billion for court construction.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts would hit his own office – he’ll find ways to trim $2.1 million. The spending plan also calls for a $26.5 million cut to the Legislature, $245.6 million cut to the judicial branch and $41 million to the Department of Justice.

Well, that is a pretty difficult and ambitious plan. Here’s a controversial idea – legalize marijuana, but make it available only to those over 21, as we do with alcohol, and make it illegal to work or drive under the influence of marijuana. And make it illegal to smoke marijuana in public. And make the substance available only through certified outlets – no street dealing.

Legalizing marijuana would create a massive retail tax base. It would also allow Schwarzenegger to let a lot of folks out of prison, whose only crime was to smoke pot. Police agencies would be able to invest their budget in other areas, such as fighting gangs, and the bad guys would be deprived of a lot of income from their illegal, underground sales of marijuana.

Another idea – make our legislature a part time body. Take away the legislator’s health benefits and cars. That would be an instant saving of perhaps millions of dollars. And cut their pay to no more than $75,000 a year. They can work side jobs like the rest of us.

How about graffiti? Businesses and local government spend millions of dollars cleaning up graffiti. Make it a state crime to tag public or private property – and throw the punks in jail for five years – in state prisons. That ought to make them think twice. How about a law that would allow local governments to seize houses and automobiles belonging to taggers? The property would be sold and the money used to cover up graffiti.

How about a tax on any plastic surgery that is for cosmetic purposes and is over $5,000 per procedure? Or, instead of taxing all of us for the cars we drive, just tax luxury cars and trucks worth over $60,000.

Finally, while the Governor wants to increase all our car taxes, how about a registration tax for those who ride bicycles? They use the roads too. Why not make them pay for part of the upkeep? This would apply only to those using bikes for non-recreational purposes.

We really do need to cut back on government spending. How about forcing fire departments to set up reserve programs again? Like they used to! Make them staff up to a third of their positions in that manner. Aside from forest fires, how many fires do we really have in suburban areas? Most of the time the paramedics are the ones who are needed, not the hook and ladder trucks. And what about making police agencies share their helicopters with fire departments?

What about all those high paid state commissioners? Enough is enough! Cut their per diems to $100. It is an honor to serve on a state commission. That should be more than enough!

We all need to cut back – our state is way too responsive to special interests. Governor Schwarzenegger really needs to get out of the box if we are going to solve our budget problem on a long term basis.

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