Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, January 12, 2004


Page 1


Cuts for State Courts in Governor’s Budget May Be Prevented, Official Says




SACRAMENTO (CAPITOL)—Judicial branch cuts included in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal are likely to be mitigated significantly in the coming months after court officials and the governor’s financial advisers hold a series of meetings, the administrative director of the state courts said Friday.

“If this [budget proposal] is all that happened, then I would have some very big apprehensions,” Bill Vickrey said during a conference call with reporters. “At the same time, I am very hopeful that in the process they have set up, we are going to address some of these issues.”

Vickrey said the budget calls for a $59 million reduction for the trial courts, to be allocated by the Judicial Council, with about $20 million of that cut expected to come from the Los Angeles courts.

The governor’s budget summary also includes descriptions of possible money-saving changes, such as “Restructuring the collective bargaining process between the courts, court employee unions, and the State, to allow for State-level participation in the negotiating process.” No dollar amounts are cited.

Long-Term Plan

Descriptions of similar changes, expected to draw opposition from labor unions and workers, are included throughout the budget summary. Schwarzenegger indicated that these reforms will be part of a long-term plan to increase efficiency and reduce state spending on personnel and supplies.

Vickrey said he is concerned about more immediate items that are not included in the budget proposal. The governor’s plan, he said, does not account for increasing expenses for retirement funds, court security, salaries and other costs which the Judicial Council cannot reduce or avoid.

The unbudgeted cost increases require “roughly another $66 million” in spending to keep the trial courts operating at their current level, Vickey said.

“When we address those mandatory costs—that money has to come out of somewhere, so that becomes a cut,” the court official said.

Vickery expressed optimism, based on discussions that he and California Chief Justice Ronald George have had with Schwarzenegger and his Department of Finance staff, that more money will be included in the budget revision that will be released in May.

The courts have been in similar situations before. Gov. Gray Davis’ last two budgets called for cuts in January that later were abandoned after lobbying by the chief justice and Judicial Council advocates.

“We started out [with cuts] and had to have a series of meetings and then adjustments were made to the budget,” Vickrey said. He said Schwarzenegger’s advisers have made a commitment “that they’re not viewing any of these numbers as final until we go through that process.”

Large Audience

The Republican governor’s $99 billion budget proposal was unveiled Friday at a press conference in the Democratic secretary of state’s office building. The auditorium there was large enough to handle a press contingent which included foreign reporters and television crews that would have overflowed the traditional press conference room in the Capitol.

Schwarzenegger’s plan calls for $76 billion in General Fund spending in the fiscal year which begins July 1, down from $78 billion last year. The cuts are part of an effort to address accumulated debt which Finance Director Donna Arduin pegged at $22 billion, including an ongoing $14 billion difference in spending and revenue collection that will accrue annually unless changes are made.

“Over the past five years, the politicians have made a mess of the California budget,” Schwarzenegger said. “Now, it’s time to clean it up.”

The former professional bodybuilder’s plan, described in a budget summary as “a workout plan for the state’s budget,” increases the per pupil spending on K-12 education, even as it spends $2 billion less than had previously been anticipated for that purpose.

It also proposes withholding cost-of-living adjustments for low-income seniors and the disabled who receive cash assistance, and ending the practice of paying family members who care for relatives under the In-Home Supportive Services program.

Such cuts to health and welfare programs prompted an outpouring of criticism of the governor’s priorities.

“We understand cuts need to be made, but putting a child’s life on the line should not be one of them,” Dr. Alan Lewis, a pediatric cardiologist at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said in a press release criticizing a proposal to save about $25 million by closing the California Children’s Services Program, which pays for medical treatment for severely ill youths.

Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Carson, said some of the governor’s proposals “will not be acceptable to the majority of Californians and a majority of the Legislature.”

Schwarzenegger said critics “have to get rid of the idea” that less money means fewer services. Efficiency can be increased in many areas to maintain services, he said. As part of that effort, the governor released his budget document on a computer disk, rather than in the traditional form of a more costly book weighing several pounds.

The governor’s budget received praise from Republican lawmakers and groups which oppose tax increases.

California Chamber of Commerce President Alan Zaremberg said the budget would stimulate economic activity, “and our economy will again generate the General Fund revenues that fund essential state services.”

Schwarzenegger said he “despise[s[” taxes and will not raise tax rates as part of his budget.

“Higher taxes will punish working families,” he said. “It will kill jobs and drive businesses away. It will stall the recovery we need to pay for essential programs.”

Asked how he will persuade the Legislature, controlled by Democrats who have voiced opposition to many of his proposals, to provide the required two-thirds vote to pass his budget, Schwarzenegger said he will meet with them and try to change their minds.

“I don’t have a specific plan on how I am going to deal with each of the legislators, how many cigars I need to smoke with them—and all of those kind of things,” Schwarzenegger said.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company