Liu fields ideas at town hall

LA Canada

GLENDALE — Community solutions posed Saturday to state Sen. Carol Liu about the state's budget crisis ranged from streamlining school administrators to allowing the production of hemp.

The suggestions came during a town hall meeting at the Glendale Central Library hosted by Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena, San Gabriel, Temple City and parts of Los Angeles.

Liu said she hosted the meeting to try to give residents a snapshot of the "dire" budget situation as she and other state lawmakers work with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger prepare to fill a $19.1-billion gap in the state's budget for the coming fiscal year.

It is the third major budget hole the state has faced in two years as tax revenues have plummeted during the economic downturn.

"I wanted to give people a taste of how difficult it is to balance the budget," she said.

About two dozen residents attended the meeting, including elected representatives from Burbank and Glendale.

Liu said she was surprised by the minimal turnout despite the growing public frustration toward budget cuts.

"Can you imagine? No one is interested in the budget," she joked with those in attendance.

She outlined the recent revised budget proposal from Schwarzenegger which budget committee members will begin to tackle next week.

The governor's plan calls for eliminating CalWorks, a welfare-to-work program, and other services for poor and underserved populations.

The proposal also includes further reductions in funding for schools and mental health services.

Liu encouraged feedback from those in attendance, saying that she wants the public to help her make the budget-cut decisions.

"What would you do?" she said. "For me, I get really angry about this whole thing."

One resident suggested taking a hard look at all non-teaching positions at schools, while another said the state should allow the production of hemp as a moneymaker.

While she did not outline her opinions on all of the governor's proposal, Liu, chairwoman of the Senate's budget subcommittee on education, repeatedly spoke against the proposed education cuts, which she said would continue to hurt the competitiveness of California students.

She also spoke in favor of prison reform, citing that the state's Department of Corrections, which has 170,000 inmates, has a similar-sized budget to the state's community college system, which enrolls 2.8 million people annually.

Several residents also spoke in favor of further reductions to the budget for state prisons, but Glendale City Councilwoman Laura Friedman cautioned against the "terrifying" potential consequences of such cuts.

In response to cuts during last year's budget process, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in January was allowed to begin releasing inmates early — a move that has drawn concern from police departments across the state.

Stakeholders have said the release could place extra pressure on local police departments while leading to an increase in property crime and other types of crime.

"We have to be very careful," Friedman said.

Throughout the meeting, Liu took a straightforward approach, acknowledging the public frustration with state lawmakers in recent years and adding her own criticisms of the system.

"I know our poll numbers are way down in Sacramento," she said.

Glendale resident Elise Kalfyan said she appreciated Liu's honesty.

"I think a lot of people in California are very upset," she said. "And she explained very well about the situation the legislators are in."

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