Sunday, May 16, 2010

New California Budget: Cruel or Kind?

"What kind of civilized society maintains business tax breaks and eliminates child care?" demanded California Senate president Darrel Steinberg when he heard the governor's new budget proposal.

Answer: Any society that wants to increase jobs and encourage families to care for their own children.

After already devouring "low-hanging fruit," California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger offered his new state budget yesterday by "shaking the whole tree," eschewing tax hikes in favor of deep program cuts. He slashed welfare, eliminating "CalWorks," which the LA Times calls "the state's main welfare program," saving $1.6 billion, he ended state-subsidized child care, recouping $1.2 billion, and sliced a third from in-home healthcare for the elderly and disabled, saving $637.1 million. Higher education is unaffected.

California's deficit remains at $19.1 billion. California is in awful financial shape, especially since state income taxes slipped 26% beyond what their analyists projected.

To his credit, Gov. Schwarzenegger insisted that the state pension system is "broken" and must be overhauled. "For instance, talking about pensions, the cost of employee retirement benefits this year is $6.1 billion. That is more than what it will cost to keep CalWORKs, child care, mental health services and in-home supportive services, just to show you how much money we spend on those things," he said in his budget presentation.

I grew up in California, and my dad spent his working life as a state employee, working at the Hollywood unemployment office, which went by various names over the years--human services development, Employment Development Department, etc.  He worked with veterans, placing them in jobs, assigned to that position as a World War II vet himself.

California was a different place when I was a kid. Ronald Regan was governor.  I wasn't politically savvy, but no one ever expected the state to pay for child care; indeed, the kids who had to go to day care after school were considered less fortunate.  It was a disgrace to be on welfare.  There were no school breakfasts; no one knew if any child received free lunch, because it was kept confidential, so as not to embarrass him.

The entitlement mentality swept the state only in the last 30 years.  Once people get used to receiving freebies, they don't want to give them up.  Now, Darrel Steinberg considers it heartless that some workers should have to pay to care for others' children.  Tax breaks for business were not part of Gov. Schwarzenegger's budget, but probably the surest way to help the unemployed reduced to taking welfare get back on their feet is to make it easy for businesses to afford hiring them.  "Businesses" don't profit; the people who work in them do--so the people who want to work, soon can.

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