Clovis News

Local jobs, services at risk in state budget proposal

Valley officials say there's plenty of bad news in Gov. Jerry Brown's budget -- and things are sure to get worse if the state has to cut again in June.

But local nonprofit and government officials, who were still studying the details Monday, said it's hard to know how Brown's budget might play out with state lawmakers. Already, Republican lawmakers have balked at Brown's plan for tax-raising ballot measures.

Inaugurated a week ago, Brown on Monday proposed $12.5 billion in spending cuts and a special June election where voters will be asked to keep in place temporary income, sales and vehicle taxes for five years.

Brown is proposing major reductions in Medi-Cal and CalWORKs, California's welfare-to-work program.

"Those programs and certainly others have been hit for the last four to five years," said Richard Yanes, executive director of Fresno Metro Ministry, a faith-based group that advocates for a number of social issues. "We're down to the point [that the budget cuts] are really quite draconian."

Brown also proposed large cuts to higher education, eliminating enterprise zones and local redevelopment agencies -- though any existing contracts would continue -- and sending some low-level prison inmates back to county jails.

None of that sat well with local officials, who also are nervous about the possible loss of law enforcement funding if a temporary increase in the vehicle license fee expires in June.

Vital funding

If that fee increase is not extended, "we've got a significant hole in law enforcement," Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said.

Among the potential funding losses: $2 million to Fresno's police department, $1.2 million for the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, $1 million for the District Attorney and $6.5 million for the county's Probation Department.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said the loss of vehicle license fee revenue could require eliminating 200 public safety jobs in Fresno County and its cities.

"It is terrible," Mims said. "It is vital that that funding either continue as [vehicle license fee] funds, or another source of that funding is found."

Eric Fleming, county administrative officer in Madera County, said he doesn't think voters have the stomach to extend the taxes Brown wants. "Somehow I feel we're going to get the short end of the stick here at the local level," he said.

Brown's budget plan also proposes to eliminate state money for Williamson Act contracts, which provide tax breaks to farmers who preserve their land for agriculture or open space. Fresno County historically has been one of the state's biggest recipients of Williamson Act funding.

Sparing education

In fact, Brown's proposed reductions hit just about everywhere -- except for K-12 education.

In a Sacramento news conference, Brown said K-12 education is being kept at current funding levels because it has "borne the brunt of [recent] budget reductions."

Fresno school leaders are pleased Brown wants to protect K-12 education from further cuts -- though they aren't so sure he can do so. "This is as good as it can possibly be," said Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson.

That said, Fresno Unified still faces $30 million in cuts over the next two years from past state budget shortfalls, Hanson said.

Larry Powell, Fresno County schools superintendent, said while he's hopeful schools might be spared, a lot depends on voter support for the governor's proposal -- and that's a big unknown. "It's going to be a very difficult row to hoe."

Fleming said Madera County has already hired a consultant to review what services the county provides -- and what it is required to provide. "We're trying to position ourselves to make significant adjustments as needed," he said.

The leaders of California's public higher education systems predicted painful consequences from proposed budget reductions that would total about $1.4 billion.

Brown's proposal for 2011-12 decreases state support by $500 million each for the California State University and the University of California systems, and $400 million for California Community Colleges.

Locally, officials say it's too soon to assess the repercussions of the proposed cutbacks. At Fresno State, university representatives said President John Welty is waiting to determine the potential effect on the campus and may have a statement later this week.

For California Community Colleges, the budget reduction is accompanied by an increase in per-unit student fees -- to $36 from $26. Fresno City College President Cynthia Azari said no one wants to see an increase in fees. But that is preferable to even deeper cuts, she said.

Deep cuts are proposed for other services. Adult day health centers in California that serve about 37,000 people with physical and mental conditions would be eliminated under the governor's proposal.

That would put hundreds of central San Joaquin Valley elderly and disabled people in jeopardy, said workers at Heritage Adult Day Care Center in Fresno.

"We have people who are going to end up on the streets and in the emergency departments," said Lynn Torres, a nurse at the center. And the state will spend more for the care, as clients end up in nursing homes or hospitals, she said.