California Democrats reject budget cuts to programs for the poor

 

The Sacramento Bee

As budget negotiations continued Monday, legislative Democrats gave the clearest indication yet they will not cut as deeply into programs for the poor as Gov. Jerry Brown wants.

Assembly Democrats released a blueprint that includes a smaller rainy-day fund and rejects most of Brown's cuts to welfare-to-work, In-Home Supportive Services, child care and Cal Grant scholarships.

They referred to their plan to bridge a $15.7 billion deficit as "the Legislature's 2012-13 budget." But Senate Democrats released their own budget agenda that contained no recommendations on how to deal with Brown's safety-net cuts, and spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the final deal could be different from the version the Assembly put forth.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, met Monday with Brown, though they have not yet struck a final budget deal. The two legislative houses will hold separate budget committee hearings today with an eye toward sending Brown a budget on Friday, the constitutional deadline.

"Discussions are ongoing," said Brown spokesman Gil Duran.

The 108-page Assembly blueprint includes a $614 million reserve, $434 million less than Brown called for. Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, said in a statement, "Our budget eliminates the structural deficit, includes a modest reserve and differs only from Gov. Brown's plan by less than 1 percent of total spending."

It was not immediately clear Monday how Assembly Democrats can balance the budget while blocking about $1 billion in Brown's safety-net cuts. Half of that is offset by the $434 million less in reserves and taking $63 million from a nearly defunct scholarship fund intended for high achievers who graduated from high school a decade ago.

Some of the Assembly's cuts maintain the status quo, though the Assembly counts them as new spending cuts because past reductions are to expire. Democrats argue that such programs have already suffered enough since the recession.

For instance, Assembly Democrats said they will save $327 million by continuing to exempt parents of young children from having to work or seek job training to receive welfare grants. This reflects the fact that it costs the state more for child care than to have parents receive cash without strings.

In another case, Assembly Democrats want to maintain a 3.6 percent cut to in-home care hours to save $59 million, but reject a cut of an additional 3.4 percent Brown wanted. They also plan to block a Brown plan to eliminate payment to In-Home Supportive Services providers who provide "domestic" services such as laundry and housecleaning.

Sandy Brown, a 44-year-old Guerneville mother, stood outside the Governor's Office on Monday with a sign proclaiming, "My son can be in our home because of IHSS." Her 14-year-old, Connor, has cerebral palsy and relies on IHSS care from her and her husband. She was part of a protest organized by the Service Employees International Union, which represents IHSS workers.

"It's disturbing to imagine that we live in a society that when it comes to tightening our belt, it would hit the lesser of us," she said.

Hector Barajas, spokesman for Senate Republicans, criticized Democrats for lowering the reserve against the advice of the credit-ratings agency Standard & Poor's. Republicans have not been part of discussions because Democrats can pass the budget on a simple majority vote.

"Their plan doesn't add up," Barajas said.

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