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Budget to reshape the Golden State

Students and the poor will notice the biggest changes from downscaling of the government.

July 22, 2009|Mitchell Landsberg

Roads will be rougher, classrooms fuller and textbooks more tattered. The odds of encountering someone fresh out of prison will almost certainly be higher.

If the budget deal crafted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and top legislative leaders is passed by the Legislature and survives the inevitable court challenges, California will undergo perhaps the biggest downscaling of government in its history.

The state will be reshaped, at least for the short term, into a domain that is more efficient by necessity, but also noticeably shabbier, less generous and possibly more dangerous.

Those who will notice the biggest changes will be students and the poor as class sizes increase and health and welfare benefits shrink. The pace of government-sponsored redevelopment will slow, and some state parks will close.

"These cuts are real, they're going to be felt, they're going to be seen," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

Details remained vague Tuesday about precisely how the cuts would be made, but enough trickled out to allow a general overview.

Educators seem to be

cautiously optimistic

Educators seemed cautiously optimistic that the cuts would not be quite as grave as feared, and that the trims and layoffs they made in anticipation of the lean state budget would be sufficient.

"Man, I sure hope so," said Ron Lebs, deputy superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County. "This has been a tough budget year all the way around."

His 51,000-student district has already cut $25 million from its budget for the upcoming school year, in part by laying off 140 of its approximately 2,250 teachers, increasing class sizes for its youngest students, eliminating funding for junior varsity sports coaches and reducing spending on programs for gifted students, music and the arts.

O'Connell said the budget includes provisions that eliminate state funding for new textbooks for five years, get rid of a requirement that special education students must pass the high school exit exam to obtain a high school diploma and reduce the minimum length of the school year from 180 days to 175.

The superintendent and others said they were pleased that Proposition 98, which requires that roughly 40% of the state budget be earmarked for education, was not suspended. There was concern, however, that the budget deal was not specific about when schools might be repaid for past cuts.

Gayle Pollard-Terry, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said leaders of the state's largest district thought they had made sufficient -- and painful -- cuts to get through the next school year, including laying off about 2,000 teachers. But conflicting reports suggested that the state reductions could require the district to undertake another round of trims, she said.

Higher education officials were relieved that the CalGrant program, which offers cash grants to lower- and middle-income college students and had been considered for elimination, had apparently been saved. But that was about the only relief in sight. The state will cut funding to both the University of California and California State University systems by about 20%. And campuses throughout the state are cutting class offerings, raising student fees and instituting furlough plans for faculty and staff.

2 health and welfare

programs are targeted

Miriam Ibarra, 31, of Victorville, sighed when she heard about the budget cuts affecting the Healthy Families program, the low-cost medical insurance program for the working poor. About half the children enrolled in the program appear likely to lose their healthcare.

"It would really affect me because I don't have any other kind of insurance," she said. "Honestly, I don't even know what I would do" without it.

Ibarra's husband is a truck driver who doesn't get health benefits because he is self-employed. Ibarra, a stay-at-home mom, and her husband go without health insurance. But the Healthy Families program covers the couple's two children, ages 14 and 10, for a premium of about $10 a month, with $5 co-pays for some visits.

Ginny Puddefoot, a spokeswoman for the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, the state agency that operates the program, said she is expecting about $124 million in cuts, in addition to an existing $20-million shortfall. Since the federal government kicks in $2 for each $1 the state spends on the program, she said the total loss will be about $432 million out of a total budget of slightly more than $1 billion.

CalWorks, a welfare-to-work program, also is targeted for large cuts. Raymond Greer, 26, an unemployed security guard, already saw his family's CalWorks grant cut from $723 to $665 earlier this year, and now is looking at the possibility of further cuts of up to half his monthly grant.

"We survive on this," Greer said as he stopped by a social services office in South Los Angeles with his girlfriend and twin 1-year-old sons. "Don't start taking from the people that don't have anything."

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