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County waits for cuts

Posted: May 30, 2009 8:32 p.m.
Updated: May 31, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
California's budget is going under the knife, with Sacramento legislators wanting to slash, or eliminate, services.

Wary county officials, meanwhile, are keeping a close eye on where the state makes its cuts because they will be forced to match the state's cuts step by step, with the reductions expected to impact housing and health services for poor people.

"If they (the state of California) cut back on any services, we're obligated to make those same cuts at the county level," said Tony Bell, spokesman for Los Angeles County Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich. The state budget revisions are due June 15.

The county must stay in lock-step with the state budget and the proposed revisions to it, because of the county's financial ties to the state, Bell said. Los Angeles County depends on the state to finance services, especially social services, he said.

"The county is an offshoot, or a division, if you will, of the state," Bell said.

For now, county officials will wait and see what the state will do with the budget before the county will know exactly what services could be severely curtailed or lost, Bell said. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed budget revisions to help close a shortfall originally estimated at $21 billion for the upcoming fiscal year of 2009-10. However, new estimates by Schwarzenegger's office put the budget shortfall at $24.3 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.

For some legislators, the state's budget crunch represents a crisis unheard of in California's history.

"We're in unprecedented times," said Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita. "In February, the Legislature voted for the largest tax increase in California history, coupled with $17 billion in tax cuts; and five months later, we're still $24 billion in the hole."

Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating CalWorks, the state welfare program, said Phil Ansell, director of program and policy for L.A. County Public and Social Services.

Los Angeles County disperses $1 billion in aid to 154,000 families, most of whom spend the money for housing, Ansell said.

"Currently 7,000 families receiving aid from Calworks are homeless," he said. "The number of homeless families in Los Angeles County could soar to more than 100,000, if Calworks is eliminated," he said.

Schwarzenegger also proposed cuts to health care coverage would save about $250 million for the year.

Making cuts that negatively impact families are never easy, but those cuts are necessary in light of state's finances, Smyth said.

"It's all on the table. With the condition the state is in, we need to consider every option for making cuts," he said.

In anticipation of the state slashing health care benefits, the Board of Supervisors started to look at services within the Los Angeles County Health Department that could be curtailed or eliminated, Bell said.

"Two weeks ago (at the May 12 Board of Supervisors meeting), the supervisors asked the Health Department to determine the scope of its mandated health services to determine what elected service can be cut," Bell said.

Until a state budget is passed, any cuts the county can make to the Health Department are undetermined, Bell added.

State legislators have until June 15 to pass a budget. The fast-approaching deadline, coupled with California's cash crunch, is eye-opening for Smyth an other legislators. "We're going to have to move quickly. We (the state) are on the verge of not having any cash," he said.

Smyth declined to comment on when the state would run out of money if the budget revisions aren't passed by June 15, but quick action is necessary considering the credit crunch.

With the credit market tightening daily, Smyth said California needs to pass a revised budget and start looking for the loans necessary to run the state.

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