As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Who Will Fight The Spending Cap?

Anthony Wright of Health Access has a good piece musing about whether or not we'll still need additional spending cuts or revenue increases before the next fiscal year budget in June 2010. It basically hinges on two things: the May 19 special election, where close to $6 billion in budget money is on the line, and the federal stimulus, which if it provides enough money to the state could trigger some reductions in cuts and taxes. First, the trigger:

Although the budget contains a number of spending cuts, it also contains a mechanism to restore some of those cuts using federal funds authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) signed by President Obama on February 17, 2009. The mechanism requires that in order to restore cuts, the state must receive at least $10 billion in federal funds to offset General Fund costs. In other words, $10 billion of federal funds are needed to “trigger off” some of the cuts.

The precise amount of federal stimulus funds for California is still being determined, however, the Director of Finance and the Treasurer must determine by April 1, 2009 whether federal funds meet the $10 billion threshold to trigger off the spending cuts. Specifically with respect to health care cuts discussed above, if there is sufficient federal funding, Medi-Cal benefits would not be eliminated and public hospital payments would not be reduced. If there is insufficient federal funding, those cuts and others--including steep cuts in SSI/SSP, IHSS, and CalWORKS would be implemented July 1, 2009.

Hopefully, these funds will make it to California's shores to stave off the worst cuts. Ultimately the federal government should seek a goal of stopping all cuts in public services and layoffs of staff, and should fill the gap in revenue in the short term. The states are being punished through little fault of their own, and counter-cyclical cuts threaten the success of recovery.

The next element is the May 19th special election. We'll be covering that in the weeks to come, but Wright lays out the most important initiatives that relate to the budget.

* Proposition 1D would amend Proposition 10, which was passed in 1998 and increased the tobacco tax to be used exclusive for services for children up to five years old. This budget, subject to voter approval, would redirect Proposition 10 funds of up to $340 million in the first year and $268 annually for the following five years to be appropriated by the Legislature. As a result, local First Five Commissions would have to cut the programs they fund, such as county “Healthy Kids” coverage initiatives.

* Proposition 1E would amend Proposition 63, which in 2004 raised the income tax for the upper-tax bracket to earmark funding specifically for mental health services. This budget, subject to voter approval, would redirect Proposition 63 funds of up to $226.7 million in the first year and $234 annually for the following year from Proposition 63 mental health services to backfill the existing Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) program.

* Proposition 1A would pass a Constitutional amendment to institute a spending cap, to limit the amount of revenue that can be appropriated for the General Fund. It also would extend the temporary taxes to last from two to five years. Under the spending cap, any revenues above a forecasted amount must be put in a “Budget Stabilization Fund,” and can only be accessed under certain circumstances. In other words, the spending cap locks up money making the state less able to fund education, health care, and other core state services.

Wright doesn't mention Prop. 1C, which would sell the state lottery to fill a $5 billion dollar hole in the short term, but cost the state money in the aggregate in the long-term from the loss in consistent revenue. I've always thought it was a stupid and shortsighted idea and would be unlikely to support it in May.

But clearly, Prop. 1A is the most dangerous measure in the long-term, locking the state into deep cuts into the distant future, which would ratchet down services regardless of demand or growth. This is the long-sought effort by the far right to drown government in the bathtub. And yet to this point, no opposition has been found to this measure.

The last time Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked California's voters to permanently cap state spending, organized labor dumped millions of dollars into a successful campaign to defeat his proposals.

Four years later, Schwarzenegger and other proponents are hoping the unions will sit out the May 19 special election in which the governor is again asking voters to enact a spending cap. That measure was placed on the ballot by the Legislature as part of last week's deal to resolve the state's cash crisis.

The official ballot arguments have been submitted, and in what administration officials hope is an encouraging sign, the best-funded labor groups opted not to weigh in against the measure. At least not yet.

In addition, the state's major antitax groups have split over the measure, with at least two supporting it even though it would prolong the tax increase that the Legislature passed last week. The California Taxpayers' Assn. signed the ballot measure backing the spending cap, and Lew Uhler of the National Tax-Limitation Committee said he also favors the measure, called Proposition 1A.

The above-mentioned provision that extends the taxes passed by the Legislature makes for approximately the easiest demagoguery in the history of California initiatives. Jon Coupal at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association says his group will try to defeat the measure. The fact that the ballot arguments had to come in so quickly may be driving this perceived silence on the part of slower-moving unions, but they need to make themselves clear. Do they support a spending cap that will unquestionably take the state backwards in the future, or will they oppose it - and back up that talk with action? We shall see.

Labels: , , , , , ,