States Target Social Programs, Education, State Workers
While Congress and the White House clash over the federal budget, state governments are cutting social programs, education and worker benefits in order to address financial shortfalls.
Protests in Wisconsin and Ohio over proposals to ban collective bargaining have gained national attention; however the two fights are not entirely unique. Many states have taken drastic measures to address their specific budget crises.
An analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicated that almost all states — 46 in total — have cut government-administered programs or employee packages.
A total of 44 states have cut benefits for state government employees. Thirty-one states have cut programs that assist low-income children and families’ abilities to obtain health care, while 29 have cut medical services for the elderly and people with disabilities. Thirty-four have reduced funding for K-12 schools and 43 have cut college education funding.
New Jersey and California both face 11 figure deficits – $10.5 billion and $25 billion, respectively. Both are dealing with massive budget holes, but in ways that reflect the relative means and philosophies of their governors.
New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, has followed the example of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by asking public employees to contribute more of their salaries toward their pensions, health care and other benefits. Christie has also proposed cuts toward education, money that goes to specific municipalities and property tax rebates.
Christie, however, said on the CBS show, “Face the Nation,” that he has remained adamant that he will not seek to raise taxes to create a bigger budget deficit.
“[W]e’re not going to continue the spending spree and we’re certainly not just going back to raising more and more taxes,” Christie said. “The people in New Jersey have had enough of that. Hundred and fifteen times in eight years, I think they’d given it the office.”
Also calling for tax increases, California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed renewals to plug the state’s $25 billion hole. Brown’s proposal includes reviving a 0.25% increase on personal income tax rates, which had expired at the end of 2010, as well as a one-point increase in the sales tax, which is set to expire this June.
In order for these measures to pass, two-thirds of the California state legislature must approve putting the measures on a special election ballot that will then go to the public for a vote.
Such measures, however, cannot entirely eliminate California’s budget woes.
Brown has proposed nearly $12.5 billion in cuts to various state programs. Such cuts include a nearly $1.7 billion reduction to Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid Program, and $1.5 billion in cuts to the state’s “welfare-to-work” initiative.
According to California Healthline, the Medi-Cal program changes would also require a copay from beneficiaries, limit physician visits to 10 annually and limit medications to six per month, except for lifesaving medication.
Brown’s primary concern, however, is that if the state legislators do not put the measure on the ballot or the voters do not approve it – more drastic cuts will be necessary.
“These cuts will be painful, requiring sacrifice from every sector of the state, but we have no choice,” Brown said. “For 10 years, we’ve had budget gimmicks and tricks that pushed us deep into debt.”
Although the public supports the premise of deficit reduction, recent polls suggest that voters are less supportive after being provided with specifics.
A CBS News/New York Times survey released Tuesday indicated that 60 percent of respondents oppose limits on collective bargaining. It also showed that 56 percent of those polled oppose reducing pay or benefits for public employees in order to reduce state budget deficits.
A recent USA-Today/Gallup poll queried participants on which measures they would support to help states and the federal government handle financial gaps. Only 27 percent of respondents supported increasing sales, incomes or other taxes and 47 percent favored cuts to government-run programs.