July 29, 2009

I am so glad I don't live in California, where propositions rule, an action hero pretends to be a governor and "no new taxes" is not a guideline but a fundamentalist state religion.

Reporting from Sacramento -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday signed a budget plan sent to him by lawmakers to close the state's monumental deficit, using his veto pen to impose nearly $500 million in additional cuts.

The new reductions will affect child welfare and children's healthcare, the elderly, state parks and AIDS treatment and prevention, going beyond the dramatic cuts that were part of the deal Schwarzenegger negotiated with legislative leaders.

Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate reacted angrily to his use of the line-item veto, disputing the Republican governor's authority to wield that power in this situation and portraying him as callous.

Schwarzenegger's aides said the cuts were proper, and the governor said they were necessary.

"This has been a very tough budget, probably the toughest since I have been in office here in Sacramento," Schwarzenegger said. "This budget is kind of like the good, the bad and the ugly."

The good, the governor said, is that the plan does not raise taxes and includes changes he says will make government more efficient, such as reorganizing and abolishing some boards and commissions.

The bad are the deep cuts to state programs that will touch millions of Californians, particularly its most vulnerable citizens, he said.

The ugly, Schwarzenegger added, are the new reductions he made because lawmakers left town after failing to fully close the state's deficit.

The Assembly on Friday capped a 20-hour session by rejecting provisions worth $1.1 billion that had been agreed to by the governor and legislative leaders.

The extra cuts the governor made Tuesday -- $489 million -- took nearly $80 million that pays for workers who help abused and neglected children; $50 million from Healthy Families, which provides healthcare to children in low-income families; $50 million from services for developmentally delayed children under age 3; $16 million from domestic-violence programs; and $6.3 million from services for the elderly. Among other reductions was $6.2 million more from parks, which could result in the closure of 100, rather than 50, of California's 279 state parks.

In addition, Schwarzenegger effectively gutted a program that provides local governments with funding to encourage property owners to preserve open space and to use land for agriculture.

Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, an advocacy group, called the cut to Healthy Families "particularly galling." He said a coalition, including his group, is spearheading a campaign to put a universal children's healthcare measure on the fall 2010 ballot.

"A struggling family puts their kids first," Lempert said. "What the governor and what the state has done is the opposite."

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