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Diverse Coalition Says ‘NO’ to Prop. 1A, 1D

New America Media, News Report, Vivian Po and Carmen Ng Posted: May 13, 2009

Editor's Note: The ballot measures up for vote next week in California's special election have been described as a way to try and fix or at least ameliorate California's budget problems. But a coalition of ethnic minorities says it will devastate their communities without solving the economic crisis. NAM reporters Vivian Po and Carmen Ng report.

Voters go to the polls next Tuesday to decide the fate of six budget-related propositions that the governor and legislators think will fix the state’s gaping deficit. But six days before the balloting, the prospects look grim.

A broad coalition of ethnic minorities has organized vocal opposition to several of the measures, with Props. 1A and 1D the most controversial. Opponents say they will have devastating effects on the health of communities of color. What’s more, they say the measures are superficial fixes at best; they won’t solve the state’s deep economic crisis.

"Proposition 1A does nothing to address the state's fundamental budget problems,” said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan policy group. “It will have no impact on the budget this year or next."

The measures are a complicated set of initiatives meant to mend the current budget shortfall and budgets for the next few years. Prop. 1A increases the state’s “rainy day fund” from 3 percent to 12.5 percent (about $12 billion) of state revenue, and limits withdrawals to emergencies, or if state revenues can’t cover the previous year’s spending level, allowing for inflation and population growth. Prop. 1A also extends the recent tax increase for up to two years, for a price tag of $16 billion in taxpayer revenues.

Prop. 1B would take $9.3 billion from the rainy day reserve to fund K-12 schools and community colleges. It only takes effect if 1A passes. If 1A passes without 1B, the supplemental funds would pay for infrastructure or state bond debt instead.

Prop. 1D diverts funds from the First 5 California Children and Families Program to the general fund, and Prop. E diverts funds from mental health programs to the general fund.

Prop. C would modernize the state lottery and Prop. F freezes salaries for elected officials during a budget deficit. Not surprisingly, Prop. F has wide public support. Not so the others.

"If Proposition 1A and 1D pass, communities of color will have to shoulder the cost of our broken system because Proposition 1A limits our ability to invest in the health care system and Proposition 1D will result in more children becoming uninsured,” said Cary Sanders, director of Having Our Say, a coalition 50 Asian, Latino and African American groups. “We cannot limit spending during bad times, when people are down and need help most. "

Supporters of Prop. 1A, which include the California Teachers Association and the state chapter of the American Association of Retired People (AARP), say that the measure is just good financial planning: saving money in good years to prevent hardship in bad years.

Julie Soderlund of Budget Reform Now, a pro-propositions group, says that 1A’s formula prevents “roller coaster rides” in the budget. “During the 90s, the tech boom, we spent all our money, and when the boom busted, our revenue decreased 15 percent and we faced massive cuts. Now we are forced to save for the bad years.”

Jeannine English, AARP California president, said “There are no easy choices when deficit occurs. We can either cut back or bring in new revenue. We have done the cutting part, now we need new resources.”

But Ross said the caps on spending that 1A imposes is the wrong policy at a time of economic hardship, when California’s population is growing and aging.

Dr. Alice Chen, a board member of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, agreed that Prop. 1A comes with long-term consequences, especially for communities of color who depend on public health services. Their access to immunization, dental and health services may be restricted.

Proposition 1A also raises questions about the governor’s power.

If Proposition 1A passes, the governor would have less power to transfer money out of the rainy day fund, but he or she would be given new authority to reduce state operations spending and programs’ cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) without legislative approval. The governor could also stop increased payments immediately when a deficit is projected, with legislative approval.

Jan Robinson-Flint, executive director of Black Women for Wellness in Los Angeles, questioned giving the state’s chief executive so much power: “Do we trust our current and future governors to do what’s right for our communities?”

The prospects for passing five of the six measures look dim, according to a voter survey by the Field Poll. All but Prop. F appear to be heading to defeat. Voters are skeptical about the initiatives in delivering on their goals, says Mark DiCamillo, Field Poll’s executive director.

“If the measures do not pass, not only will the state legislature have a hard time resolving its budget problem,” said DiCamillo, “it also indicates that the state is losing public trust.”

The poll indicated that those over age 55, white or Republican, were more likely to vote in this election, which may result in more conservative voting and ‘no’ votes for all measures but 1F.

DiCamillo added that although 71 percent of those surveyed were aware of the initiatives, part of their answers showed that they did not fully understand some of the initiatives.

For example, only 10 percent of those who responded “yes” to Proposition 1D know the total amount the state spends on health and human service programs over the next four years will decrease if it passes.

He said, “It is interesting that those who voted yes on 1D are based on misconception.”

Quyen N. Vuong, executive director of the International Children Assistance Network (ICAN), in Santa Clara, said Prop. 1D would cut $1.6 billion from the First 5 program, which provides health services to children regardless of their immigration status.

Sanders said the First 5 program does outreach work to communities of color, where a high percentage of children lack health insurance, even if they are eligible. First 5 could reduce health and educational disparities, she argued, by giving low-income children tools to succeed.

Soderlund denied that Prop. 1D would harm children’s health services. She said that the First 5 program accumulates $400 million at the statewide level, and $2.1 billion total among 58 counties. She said these funds could be put to good use by diverting them to the general fund to support human services, which is what Prop. 1D would allow.

State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, a supporter of the measures, is concerned that if they fail at the ballot, the alternatives for closing the budget gap will be worse.

“It took a long time for Republicans and Democrats to come up with the package,” said Ma. “If the public do not support it, we have to go back and make some really painful cuts in order to have a balanced budget.”

Link to Yes on Propositions Campaign:

California Budget Reform Now

Links to No on Propositions 1A or 1D:

No on Proposition 1D

Having Our Say

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