Budget: Time to restore cuts to pre-crisis levels

Governor Jerry Brown, who has asked the California Legislature to convene in a Special Session to consider his new rainy day fund proposal, recently has shown leadership in stabilizing revenues and beginning to restore programs cut during the recession.  He has called for a restructuring of the state’s existing rainy day fund, known as the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA). (An alternative proposal approved by the Legislature in 2010 is scheduled to appear on the statewide ballot in November.)

According to the California Budget Project, the Governor’s plan would require that payments be made into the fund before state revenues return to their  pre-recession level. We ask the Governor and the state Legislature to reconsider, because California’s poor and middle-class  are still underwater from too many rainy days during the recession and slow recovery.

California is experiencing a budget surplus for the first time in decades due to the voter passage of Proposition 30 in 2012 and the hard work of the Governor and Legislature through the last two state budget cycles. Voters passed Prop. 30, which raised sales and income taxes, because they understood that California’s schools and social services were underfunded, and they believed that those who have benefited greatly from the economy — namely the wealthy — could and should pay more.

According to federal estimates, every $1Billion cut to food assistance benefits results in as much as  18,000 lost jobs.

California has the highest supplemental poverty rateone of the lowest SNAP participation rates and is home to two of the five hungriest cities in the country. We were one of only three states that experienced a growth in childhood poverty from 2011-12, when fully two-thirds of all children who became newly poor in America came from California.

Over $15 Billion in cuts to the social safety net were made in order to balance the state’s budget over the past decade. These cuts have not come without a price. They have made our poorest citizens hungrier and their families less stable. They have resulted in closed schools and closed opportunities for middle class families and those who seek to enter the middle class. And our local governments have felt the brunt of these cuts when confronted with increased homelessness and fewer resources to counter it.

Cuts to public programs also resulted in net job loss. According to federal estimates, every $1Billion cut to food assistance benefits results in as much as  18,000 lost jobs. As a result of cuts to public programs here in California, one in every ten public sector jobs has disappeared, further swelling the ranks of the unemployed throughout the state. Incredibly, according to University of California researchers, California would have retained roughly half a million jobs over the course of the recession if budget cuts could have been avoided.

The Governor’s proposal to smooth out the boom and bust cycle of California’s budget is an important goal, but only should be taken on after revenues return or exceed where they were before the budget crisis began. Permanently locking in recession-era cuts will stymie our economic growth and continue to cause misery for millions of Californians.

Our organizations look forward to the Governor’s Special Session as an opportunity to articulate our shared commitment to a California where no child experiences hunger, everyone who can work has a job with decent wages, and those who can’t work are cared for humanely.

It’s time to redefine fiscal responsibility and account for the costs of stagnant poverty, record inequality and unmet human needs on our budget balance sheets. If we don’t, we will be left with long-term deficits to our economy, our communities and, fundamentally, our democracy. No one sends their grocery money to their savings account when it means their kids will go hungry. Neither should California.

Eds Note: Jim Araby is the Executive Director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, and Vanessa Aramayo is from California Partnership.

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