State’s budget-cut pain isn’t spread equally

The across-the-board budget cut to state agencies, as announced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Feb. 19, conjures up the idea that all state departments take equal reductions.

But the reality is quite different: Some of the state's biggest departments do not feed off the General Fund. They remain unaffected by the governor's proposed 10 percent cut for new budget year or the 1.5 percent midyear trimming.  

However, some agencies are taking steps to scale back their expenses at the governor's recommendation, in an effort to add to the projected $100 million that the midyear cuts will bring to the state.

California Department of Transportation is looking into ways it can reduce nonessential expenditures, said David Anderson, spokesman for Caltrans. "[Caltrans] recognizes that these savings can be redirected to transportation projects, an economic stimulus," he said.  

Caltrans plans to reduce travel costs by canceling or postponing travel for seminars, conferences or training, and reducing the size of meetings requiring travel to essential participants only.

Savings from other departments' targets helping specific agencies.

The Department of Motor Vehicles relies primarily on the motor vehicle account, an all-encompassing fund supported through public driver fees. The account benefits programs such as the California Highway Patrol and the Air Resources Board. Similarly, some other state agencies-including the Department of Insurance, the State Compensation Insurance Fund and the Department of Managed Health Care – are supported by fees from those they regulate.

"Even though executive the order applies to agencies in general fund, we are making every effort we can to be as fiscally responsible and prudent as we can on travel expenses," said DMV spokesman Steve Haskins.   

Travel expenses place high on the list of suggested cutbacks from the governor's office. The cuts also include hiring freezes, limiting discretionary travel for seminars, conferences or training; and holding off on certain purchases.

The Governor ordered all agency secretaries and department directors to immediately begin reducing their current budgets by 1.5 percent by cutting nonessential services and activities. The order, now in effect, directs secretaries and directors to find savings, whether it's on personnel, travel or equipment.

"You can't force employees to pay for business expense, [but you can] cancel travel to something employees didn't absolutely have to go to, said Lynelle Jolley, spokeswoman for Department Personnel Administration.

Not all general fund programs suffer cutbacks. Constitutionally exempt programs include health and dental benefits for retirees, and contributions to state employees such as judges and teacher's retirement. Among others the Department of Finance website lists as "impractical to implement" are Calgrant high school and community college entitlement grants, juvenile justice programs, health care for inmates, and the franchise tax board and board of equalization, classified as "revenue generating" departments.

The biggest hits go to those programs taking the biggest piece of the general fund pie: namely corrections, education and consumer services.

Donna Calame, Executive Director of San Francisco In-home Support Services public authority notes that IHSS clients are evaluated and granted the least number of hours to receive service from caregivers in their homes.

While cleaning and laundry service constitutes a luxury for many, for clients of IHSS, said Calame, this is a lifeline.

"There's not much we can do to brace for [budget cuts] besides try to convince policy makers otherwise, said Calame. "These are people we need to take responsibility for. They rely on a safety net, and that net is being shredded."

Individuals eligible for IHSS services are 65 or older, blind or with other disabilities that disable them from living safely at home without help. The IHSS program uses state, county and federal funding.

"We only provide the minimal hours that people need to be safe at home. If you cut back hours, you leave people desperately searching for services or [being forced] to go into nursing homes, which costs much more taxpayer money than IHSS."  

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