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Slicing up California's budget pie

Leaders in the fields of education, health and human services, and corrections explain how they would make necessary, but painful, cuts.

May 24, 2009|Cara Mia DiMassa

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers struggle to trim as much as $24 billion from the budget, they are trying to do it almost entirely by cuts in spending. "We don't want to solve this budget through gimmicks and much borrowing," Schwarzenegger said.

The cuts will touch all corners of the state bureaucracy, but most will come from the biggest pieces of the budget pie: education, health and human services, and corrections. Some leaders in those fields explain how they would make necessary, but painful, cuts.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, May 27, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
State budget: Charts with an article in Sunday's Section A about attempts to trim the state's budget reported 2008-09 expenditures in millions of dollars rather than billions. The correct amounts are $59.7 billion for education, $39.4 billion for health and welfare, and $10.4 billion for prisons.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 31, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
State budget: Charts accompanying a May 24 article in Section A about attempts to trim the state's budget misstated 2008-09 expenditures. The correct amounts are $59.7 billion for education, $39.4 billion for health and welfare, and $10.4 billion for prisons; the charts said "million" instead of "billion."

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Public education

The governor proposes cutting at least $3 billion from the education budget, the state's biggest expenditure, and that could increase to as much as $5.3 billion. Of those cuts, about $1 billion is to come from the current school year, which is nearly over.

Caprice Young

Former board president

A significant amount of the state's education expenditures is wasted on "over-regulation," Young says.

A former president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education and former chief executive officer of the California Charter Schools Assn., she says that too much of a school district's budget goes "to complying with a whole lot of regulatory mumbo jumbo. There are endless forms that have to constantly be filled out. I'm not talking about reducing accountability -- I'm talking about reducing bureaucracy."

California's public schools, she said, often must juggle more than 100 categorical funds, each of which require special forms that administrators must fill out as they use the funds. Charter schools, by contrast, she said, have fewer than a dozen such funds.

"By reducing the number of funding sources, and providing the flexibility to the schools to do the work they need to do, you then take the money out of the bureaucracy and put it into school sites. There is no reason not to do that. It would be a better course of action even if there weren't a budget crisis."

Young said the governor and the Legislature should ensure that the cuts California is about to face do not hurt children.

Marty Hittleman

Teachers union president

Before thinking about making cuts to the budget, the governor should ensure that state Republicans agree to new revenue sources, either taxes or fees -- "not student fees, but fees on other things," Hittleman says.

The president of the California Federation of Teachers said that the deficit is so large "you could cut the prisons, the Cal State schools, the University of California and you still wouldn't have enough money."

Hittleman was a math professor at L.A. Valley College before he took over leadership of the group, which represents more than 120,000 educational employees in schools ranging from Head Start to the University of California.

Hittleman said the state should eliminate "some of the onerous things that the schools are doing, like excessive testing," which he says takes time and money away from classroom instruction.

He suggests trying to obtain a temporary waiver from the federal government of the testing requirements.

Hittleman insists that larger class sizes -- one of the cost reductions being considered -- are not an acceptable solution. "Small classes help students learn," he said. "I would keep in mind that a student only has one chance at first grade."

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Health and human services

Schwarzenegger is considering dismantling CalWorks, which helps more than 500,000 poor families, and eliminating a health insurance program that reaches almost 1 million children and teens, as well as slashing disease education and prevention programs.

Dr. Robert Ross

Former health official

The president of the California Endowment, Ross suggests that Sacramento first raise revenue. He proposes a tax or fee on "unhealthy products that directly contribute to our healthcare costs in the state: tobacco of course, but also alcohol, sodas and junk food."

Ross, who has served as the director of San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency, said such a tax or fee could be levied for an interim period, until other structural budgeting and fiscal reforms kick in.

In the meantime, he said, because sodas and junk food especially contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and strokes, "you get a double bottom line: you raise revenue, but you cut your healthcare costs over the long haul."

He also said that in the past, hospitals and other healthcare providers have agreed to assess provider fees on themselves that eventually would draw more matching federal dollars to the state and could improve Medicaid reimbursement rates. He said lawmakers should revisit that option as they consider other ways to raise revenues.

"There's not a long list of options," Ross admits. But, he adds, slashing the state's safety net for the poor would "border on the inhumane."

Dr. Susan Love

Professor of medicine

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