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Governor's veto ax falls heavily on welfare, child care and special education programs

Schwarzenegger vetoes nearly $1 billion for social programs before signing the budget bill lawmakers had passed about eight hours earlier. Advocates for the poor say the cuts are too deep.

October 09, 2010|By Jack Dolan and Shane Goldmacher, Los Angeles Times

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday vetoed nearly $1 billion in spending on welfare, child care, special education and other programs before signing the budget bill that lawmakers had passed about eight hours earlier after a marathon overnight session.

The governor slashed 23 line items from the $87.5-billion general fund budget, including $256 million from a program for school-age children of families moving off welfare, $133 million from mental health services for special education students and nearly $60 million from AIDS treatment and prevention programs.

Schwarzenegger did not explain his actions, but a report issued by his finance department said the savings from his vetoes would "create a prudent reserve for economic uncertainties." The state's reserve for emergencies such as battling wildfires will grow from $375 million to $1.3 billion, the report said.

Advocates for the poor said the governor's cuts were too deep, especially after a months-long standoff had produced a compromise spending plan that largely spared health and welfare programs from the ax.

"This recession is a time when people in communities need the help the most, and yet the governor is unilaterally making these cuts," said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group.

The spending plan totals about $125 billion overall and passed the Legislature a record 100 days after the budget year began. It addresses a $19.1-billion deficit without new taxes and relies heavily on creative bookkeeping, as well as on cuts to public schools and state workers' paychecks.

Democratic lawmakers fought back furiously after Schwarzenegger cut about half as much — $489 million — from last year's general fund, challenging in court his authority to wield the veto pen so liberally. The courts sided with the governor, and the bitterness appeared to linger.

Schwarzenegger's vetoes "were directed at making life more difficult for California's working parents and the poorest, sickest and most elderly Californians. This is disappointing, but not surprising," Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D- Los Angeles) said in a statement.

"Now we know we have no say over it whatsoever," said Alicia Trost, spokeswoman for Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D- Sacramento). "It's just a question of how cruel he wants to be."

Other Democrats were calling Schwarzenegger a hypocrite. Earlier this week, he had held a news conference announcing his support for extending foster care to young adults up to age 21; they're currently cut off after turning 18. But on Friday, the governor vetoed nearly $80 million in child welfare services, which includes money for foster care.

"It is unfortunate that the governor just this past week portrayed himself as a child welfare advocate, and then within days he devastated foster kids with the stroke of his blue pencil," said Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), the former speaker who is now running for Congress.

In addition to the large cuts to welfare and education were multimillion-dollar reductions to programs that fight AIDS and substance abuse and provide community clinics for people without health insurance.

"Those people have no place else to go," said Nancy Berlin, director of California Partnership, a statewide coalition of advocates for the poor.

The deepest cuts were to welfare and child care services.

In May, Schwarzenegger had proposed eliminating the state's main welfare program, CalWORKS. When the deal approved by lawmakers spared the program, advocates had breathed a sigh of relief. Then the vetoes came.

Berlin said the reduction in child care was particularly galling for working welfare recipients struggling to make ends meet.

"We're telling them to go out and work, and we're going to make it harder to do that by taking their child care away from them," she said. "It's one of those penny-wise, pound-foolish things."

Administration officials said many of the cuts announced Friday would be made in ways intended to minimize the effect on people who rely on state services. A $366-million cut to CalWORKS, for example, will be covered by an advance from the federal government that the state hopes it will not be required to pay back, said Ana Matosantos, Schwarzenegger's finance director.

jack.dolan@latimes.com

shane.goldmacher@latimes.com

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