On the ballot for next Tuesday’s statewide special election are six statewide measures that purport to address California’s mindboggling budget chasm-a shortfall threatened to exceed $42 billion by the end of next year. A recent study suggests the state will run out of cash by July.
PROP. 1A: YES
Prop. 1A perpetuates the $16 billion package of tax increases approved during this year’s budget deliberations through 2012. It’s the only measure in this year’s special election that identifies reasonably reliable new revenues without raiding existing budgetary cookie jars.
Prop. 1A includes a spending cap of sorts requiring that 12.5 percent be set aside for hard times (in which California most certainly finds itself). As a result, many of the deep-pocketed special interests long associated with the Democratic Party have come out against it. And just as expectantly, Prop. 1A has been reviled by most Republicans for whom nothing is as morally odious as a tax hike.
Without Prop. 1A, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger claims California may have to close fire stations, release dangerous convicts from state prisons, and hack services designed to assist the most helpless and frail members of our population. Some of this might be election year grandstanding, but our rebuttal to both nay-saying camps is simple: 16 billion bucks is 16 billion bucks.
PROP. 1B: NO
If passed, Prop. 1B would require the state treasury to repay $9.3 billion already cut from education funding for classes K-14. The paybacks would be staggered throughout the years, and commence in 2011. This measure was inserted to ensure that the powerful California Teachers Association did not oppose Prop. 1A. 1B was crafted as a compliment to 1A; if 1A does not pass, 1B will have no impact even if it were to win by 100 percent of the vote. Long term, however, state fiscal analysts caution that under the terms of 1B, the repayments would prove to be more expensive than the initial payments should have been-“potentially by billions of dollars each year.” Given the desperate fiscal realities, we find these additional costs unsupportable.
PROP. 1C: NO
Prop. 1C promises to fill the state coffers with an infusion of $5 billion in new loan revenues. The theory is that by modernizing the state lottery and making the payouts more lucrative, more people will wager, thus increasing revenue streams. These hypothetical revenue increases will provide the basis by which the state can sell $5 billion in new bonds. And they, in turn, can be used as a one-time infusion to help plug a budget gap that grows bigger by the minute.
At best, Prop. 1C constitutes wishful thinking in the extreme. At worst, it’s delusional, reckless, and irresponsible. The state’s own fiscal analysts fear that the debt service on the bonds-when coupled with the increased lottery payouts promised under 1C-will wind up costing more money than it ever brings in. For us, that’s a deal killer.
PROP. 1D: NO
Of the six budget initiatives, none are more deliciously deceptive in their titles than 1D, which is billed on the ballot as “Protects Children’s Services Funding.” In point of fact, this measure would do exactly the opposite. If approved, 1D would divert $1.6 billion from children’s health, education, and early intervention programs administered by First 5 commissions in all 58 counties and statewide in Sacramento.
Rather than divert existing dollars from existing programs, these services are paid for by taxes on tobacco products. If approved, 1D would snatch $268 million a year from First 5 programs, progressively taking more each succeeding year and putting it in the general fund. We oppose 1D because it takes funds from a program that brought its own revenue stream to the table in the first place. Such programs, we feel, should remain off-limits.
PROP. 1E: NO
That same logic certainly drives our opposition to Prop. 1E, which would divert $230 million a year-for two years-from special mental health programs approved by state voters in the form of Prop. 63 two years ago. By imposing a marginal tax increase on the state’s wealthiest, Prop. 63 supporters secured a new, if modest, revenue stream designed to address some of California’s glaringly unmet mental health needs. Statewide, Prop. 63 funds have helped secure services for 200,000 individuals who otherwise would have gone without. In the City of Santa Barbara, such funding has proven essential for two recent housing projects designed to provide shelter and services to the mentally ill. Those funds have also gone to help those whose homelessness was caused in large measure by their mental disorders. Recent studies have convincingly demonstrated that the cost of cutting or abandoning such programs far exceeds any savings that might be realized. It takes considerably less to house the mentally ill than it does to hold them in county jail. In this regard, Prop. 1E is dangerously shortsighted-pennywise, but pound foolish-and should be rejected strongly by California voters.
PROP. 1F: NO
Both silly and irrelevant, Prop. 1F was inserted at the insistence of State Senator Abel Maldonado in exchange for his vote, which-thanks to the two-thirds majority requirement-was desperately needed for any budget to pass. If approved, 1F would prohibit pay raises for the state legislature to be passed during times when the budget is not balanced. Given that public approval for the legislature is at an all-time low-11 percent-such gestures of contempt are no doubt tempting and perhaps even satisfying. But it raises no new funds nor addresses any of the broader structural problems that keep the California legislature in so profound a state of perpetual dysfunction.