BUDGET Well, we don’t have to tell you that this year was a record-breaker. At 6:00am on February 18th, the Legislature finally reached a budget deal, after two days on lockdown at the Capitol. Senators went back and forth for hours, Republicans still refusing to back down on their “no new taxes” pledge. The marathon Senate session went for a record 45 ½ hours, the single longest Senate session in history. The Assembly had the votes all along, but had to wait for the Senate to post their votes, then the Assembly could follow suit.
Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) provided the critical 27th vote and got most of the concessions that he had asked for. In return for his vote, he convinced the legislature to approve two constitutional ballot measures to be voted on during the May Special Election. The first will create open primaries and the other initiative will ban legislative pay increases during budget deficit years. After this bizarre budget season, it will be no surprise if the voters take this initiative and run with it. In addition to the two measures put forth by Senator Maldonado, the budget plan also includes a spending cap that will be taken to the voters (this was demanded by the Republicans), as well as the securitization of the Lottery. All of these issues will be hot buttons, come Special Election season. Another big pay day for campaign consultants.
In the midst of the stalemate on February 17th, Senator Minority Leader Dave Cogdill (R- Modesto), was dumped from his leadership position by Republicans and replaced by Dennis Hollingsworth (R- Murrieta). This was another warning for Republicans to stick with the Republican agenda. It took a lot of guts for the Members who voted against party lines, which was necessary to garner the 2/3 vote required for the tax increases. The Senators that voted for the budget were Abel Maldonado, Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield and Dave Cogdill. The Assemblymembers that backed the budget plan were Minority Leader Mike Villines, of Clovis, Roger Niello of Fair Oaks and Anthony Adams of Hesperia. As a result of these members voting for the tax package, the California Republican Party voted on February 22 to deny funding for campaign mailers in the eligible members’ next election. That is a hit to these members, and definitely showed the state just how serious the Republicans are about partisan politics.
The Governor’s handling of this extraordinary budget year has come under harsh criticism. First, state workers have officially begun twice-monthly “furlough Fridays”, during which they are forced to take the day off, unpaid. This amounts to an approximate 10% pay cut for these workers. Many have been angered, as this move went around the bargaining table and changed the pay agreements these workers already had in place. This means longer lines at the DMV, state agencies handling social services, real estate, teacher credentialing, worker’s compensation and other services. The post office is toying with the idea of cutting mail service to five days per week, possibly cutting mail service on Tuesdays. We will see what happens on that front. In order to try and end the partisan politics the last week of the budget battle, the Governor threatened to send out 20,000 layoff notices to state employees. Maybe it did have an affect on legislators, as the budget was passed within days of the layoff threat.
As for the cuts that directly affect public safety, we have to be pleased with the outcome. In the Governor’s January budget plan, he proposed to cut the funding for public safety programs to $396 million, in the form of a “shift” that zeroed-out all local public safety funding from the State General Fund, while providing $396 million out of the Vehicle License Fee (VLF). This shift would fund only COPS, Juvenile Justice, Juvenile Justice Probation and Booking Fee Reimbursement. Funding for the fight against Meth, grants to rural sheriff agencies and Vertical Prosecution found themselves remaining at zero. This proposal was supported by both Houses of the Legislature, but PORAC worked diligently to increase the backfilled amount, in an attempt to save the programs that were still projected at zero funding.
In the end, after much input from PORAC, the Legislature voted to reinstate the previously zeroed-out law enforcement programs by temporarily increasing the VLF by .15%. Unfortunately, the Republicans demanded that the VLF increase be tied to the passage of the spending cap initiative in the May Special Election. This means that public safety funding would shift to the VLF for either two years or five years, depending on whether the spending cap measure passes. If the spending cap fails, the funding will remain in effect for two years, if it passes, it will remain for five years.
The following chart shows the final outcomes for law enforcement funding through 2010. From this point until the end of June, law enforcement will be funded partially by the General Fund and partially by the VLF. After the end of this fiscal year, funding will be solely from the VLF, in the amount of $502 million annually.