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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

California In Crisis: How The Budget Debacle Screws Social Services

Staff Reporters |
April 27, 2011 | 10:33 p.m. PDT

The debate over California's budget is now being called a state-wide political war, but the casulaties are those who rely on the services bearing the brunt of the cuts. How do you know your state is in trouble? Perhaps when The Economist devotes 14 pages of analysis to piecing together why the one-time gold standard of American democracy is now synonymous with “dysfunction” and legislative stalemate, it’s time to do some soul-searching. 

(Creative Commons)
(Creative Commons)

The state faces a deficit of almost $26 billion. Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to cut half that amount in spending and raise the other half through the extension of tax increases passed in 2009. The cuts, which mostly affect the sick, the poor and the elderly, have passed, but negotiations in the state legislature broke down over taxes, leaving the state with the possibility of a budget balanced on the backs of those who can afford it least.

Neon Tommy staffers dug deep to find the people who would be hit hardest by the cuts. Services and institutions in peril include health care, courts, mental health, child care, parks and higher education ($500 million each from the UC and Cal-State systems). Brown’s pledge to spare public K-12 was contingent on the tax extensions, which are looking less and less likely to go on the ballot.

Emily Frost found a state-funded Filipinotown adult day care center, where budgetary woes threaten to dramatically change the way of life of many seniors.

Not even California’s justice system is safe from the balance sheet, reports Kaitlin Parker. Some court find themselves fighting just to stay open – again.

Ryan Faughnder found a system of mental health care that has just started to see real, overdue progress – only to see it threatened by slashes to budgets.

Many parents lucky enough to find jobs in this economy have found themselves in a pinch, because without subsidized child care they do not know who will look after their kids, Jennifer Whalen reports.

At Cal State Northridge, Alexandria Yeager found students worried about paying higher fees at a time when no one can afford to enter the job market without a degree.

Kristie Hang visited a Los Angeles state park to find a system’s future hanging in the balance.

And as Christine Detz discovered, the hopes of sparing K-12 are looking more and more like wishful thinking.

And lastly, for Intersections, Sarah Golden parses out the ramifications of the $1.7 billion cuts to Medi-Cal.

With his budget, Brown has tried to work out the math without the typical creative accounting tricks (“kicking the can down the road,” as he calls it) that has created more long-term problems. But at the end of that equation, it’s the real people who depend on state services come up short. If a deal can’t be reached in the state government, their pain will likely be doubled.

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