State Budget Deal Demonstrates California's Dysfunction

The final budget could result in fewer welfare checks dispersed, state workers continuing to take unpaid days off and new drilling for oil would be permitted off the Santa Barbara coast.
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By all indications, California has closed its $26 billion-plus budget deficit -- that would be the good news.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger touted the agreement came with no new taxes, while Assembly Speaker Karen Bass suggested that the safety net has been protected. I agree there were no new taxes, but the claim of protecting the safety net may be a stretch.

The deal, which must still be approved by the rest of the Legislature, would cut $15.5 billion in spending, the remainder to be filled by taking roughly $4.4 billion from local governments and $3.5 billion through assorted accounting maneuvers -- leaving the state with $875 million in reserve.

Tens of thousands of seniors and children could lose access to health care. Thousands of convicted criminals could serve less time in state prison due to early release -- unimaginable for a state with the nation's highest and most expensive recidivism rate.

The final budget could result in fewer welfare checks dispersed, state workers would still be forced to continue to take unpaid days off and new drilling for oil would be permitted off the Santa Barbara coast.

It is tempting to be overcome with a sense of indifference for those on public assistance. Let us not forget because of the state's economy the welfare rolls have expanded beyond those we've conveniently placed in the box reserved for recipients of our public contempt.

Higher education will simply be out of reach for some and community college will unlikely be able to fill the void. At a time when the state economy needs to produce more college graduates, the budget says we have no alternative but to get by with fewer. There will be fewer K-12 teachers next year with increased class size.

Some state parks also will close because of this budget agreement. And this may not be the end of the nightmare. No one believes the decline in state revenue has hit the floor.

There is certainly room for the economy to drop further -- translating into the distinct possibility of an encore performance to close the deficit by the governor and Legislature within the year, if not sooner.

How will Wall Street view this budget? That will certainly have an impact, especially on local governments seeking to borrow the money the state has taken away. Who is going to lend money to the city of Vallejo?

This budget would put a city already in bankruptcy in the unenviable task of citing their ability to pay back the bonds based on the money they will receive from the state with the nation's lowest bond rating.

It is a given lawsuits will be pending from local governments unable to fill potholes if this budget is passed. Resources also will be taken from redevelopment projects, which will impact the construction industry statewide.

How can members of the Legislature representing Alameda County vote for this budget that will take away an estimated $84 million over the next 24 months?

Even if the budget is passed by the Legislature, it won't require much to undo the fragile thread that holds it together.

Does this mean more reactionary ballot initiatives to compensate for the cuts in this budget, serving only to worsen the problem?

The legion of special interests making the perfunctory trek to Sacramento before the budget vote, explaining to members of the Legislature why they should be immune from the draconian cuts will not change the outcome.

California, in its kicking-the-can-down-the-road budget, came up with something that indicates the level of dysfunction within state politics.

It wouldn't surprise me if this budget goes down to defeat. That's not a prediction; and it would certainly increase the cries of typical California dysfunction from the echo chamber of dissenters.

The more I read about the budget's impact, it may be a pill too bitter for a majority of the Legislature to swallow. It would require courage to vote against it, because it is also a vote against the leadership.

Look at it this way, a vote on this budget would be the choice between keeping the dysfunction that you know instead of opting for the dysfunction you don't.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his website:

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