GOP lawmakers issue plan to balance California budget
Reporting from Sacramento -- Republican lawmakers on Thursday produced their first detailed plan to balance California’s budget, relying on deep spending cuts for state workers, the mentally ill and the disabled.
The proposal also contains optimistic revenue assumptions and, unlike Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s current budget plan, no extended taxes.
The plan, unveiled by Assembly Republicans four days before Brown will update his financial blueprint, would fund public schools at roughly the same level as the governor has proposed and avert further reductions to state universities. It also contains a razor-thin reserve of less than 1%.
The plan may run aground in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, which has already rejected many of the Republicans’ ideas. Their proposal would cut roughly $1.3 billion in services for the needy, which Brown proposed in January and which Democratic lawmakers have blocked. Those services include welfare grants, adult day-care centers, in-home assistance for the elderly and help for the disabled.
The state workforce would face layoffs or pay cuts totaling 10%. An additional 10% would be taken out of departments’ operating and equipment budgets. Combined, those cutbacks would save $1.7 billion.
Voters would be asked to sign off on a temporary shift of $2.4 billion from mental health and early childhood programs to shrink the deficit. Californians rejected such a move two years ago, but Republicans said their plan disproves Brown’s repeated contention that severe cuts to schools and police — to which they devote an extra $500 million — are inevitable without more taxes.
Connie Conway of Tulare, leader of the Assembly’s Republicans, said in a letter to Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) that the plan “represents the common-sense solutions that we believe can be embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike in enacting a reasonable, no-tax-increase budget compromise.”
Republicans in the state Senate embraced the plan.
“We can get there without raising taxes,” Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) said during a floor debate.
But Brown’s administration immediately dismissed the document as a papering-over of the state’s fiscal troubles.
It’s “nothing more than a transparent attempt to disrupt and distract from a real solution, and we’ll be treating it as such,” said Gil Duran, the governor’s press secretary.
The Republicans said they could save nearly $1 billion by trimming what they identified as government waste — for example, by reducing Medi-Cal fraud ($300 million) and transferring prisoner medical care to the University of California or the private sector ($400 million).
Their plan also includes provisions to hire private contractors instead of state workers to perform many services, such as electronic court reporting, saving $700 million.
The proposal would wipe away the biggest chunk of California’s estimated $15.4-billion shortfall by projecting $5 billion more in tax receipts than Brown assumed in January, when he released his initial plan. Tax collections have outpaced forecasts by roughly $2.5 billion in the last four months, and Republicans said they expect the trend to continue.
Democrats and their labor allies, meanwhile, are still pushing for more taxes.
On Thursday, the state Service Employees International Union announced that it would begin airing, in the districts of five Republican legislators, more than $1 million in TV ads saying, “Stop these extreme cuts.” Union officials said they believe those lawmakers might be persuaded to support Brown’s call for more taxes.
State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, said in a statement that the Republicans’ plan amounted to “fairy-tale budgeting” that would quickly unravel and leave California with a yawning fiscal chasm.
“Maybe,” he said, “they think Tinkerbell will fly in and make the shortfalls vanish with pixie dust.”
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