This year’s budget drama is approaching a climax in the next week. The Budget Conference Committee has approved $12.5 billion of significant cuts, over half to health and human services.
As awful as the cuts are, the question is whether they will get worse. The budget depends on a vote of the California people to approve the extension of current tax rates, in order to fill the remaining $12 billion hole. The Governor is seeking Republican votes to place the question on a June ballot, and has been negotiating with five GOP Senators and possibly others. They have days, not weeks, to make a deal in order to be ready by the June ballot.
That said, the question may shift to what the GOP legislators want in return for their vote–not to raise taxes, but simply to put the question to the electorate. They have suggested that they want pension changes, the weakening of environmental laws, and most odious a spending cap–the kind of cap that would handcuff the state’s future ability to invest in key services, or even keep up with health care inflation. Spending caps have been defeated at the ballot in 2005 and 2009.
So with all this drama going on, this year’s California Budget Project conference on Thursday will be timely. The theme, “We the People: Assessing California’s Century of Direct Democracy” goes directly to some of the problems that led up to this crisis; and part of the solution in that potential June election.
We look forward to the conference, especially since the agenda features a plenary with Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Information Strategy Center, in Washington, DC. She has extensive background in California, from the San Diego Central Labor Council to the ACLU. She served on the Health Access California board when at Planned Parenthood for many years, and actually served as our president of Health Access Foundation–until she left to work for the Obama campaign and eventually work at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It’ll be an interesting week.