By Sandra Viera and Jeremy Cantor
June 25, 2013
There has been a lot of back-slapping and self-congratulations swirling around Sacramento over the past couple weeks as California lawmakers passed a balanced $96.3 billion budget and MediCal expansion bills on time. But at a time when the state’s revenue picture is the best it’s been in years—and significantly better than the governor’s conservative estimates—major cuts to investments in the health and safety of California communities were a bitter disappointment to many advocates.
To be sure, the budget does have some good features: It increases investments in K-12 education, mental health and dental care. Yet it also includes significant cuts in funding for active transportation, sustainable community development, local public health infrastructure, and county health clinics that serve low-income Californians and undocumented immigrants. Some of the significant cuts include:
No Dedicated Funding for Safe Routes to School: For months, health, transportation, equity, and environmental advocates have been working with the administration and legislators to develop an Active Transportation Program that would streamline and strengthen funding for walking and biking improvements. On June 10, members of the CA Legislature’s Budget Conference Committee voted to support a budget bill that delays establishment of the transportation program and provides no dedicated funding for existing programs. This decision could result in an end to dedicated Safe Routes to School funding, the dismantling of California's highly effective SRTS programs and jeopardizes years of hard-fought gains that ensured that a proportion of state and federal transportation funds go toward improving health and safety in low-income communities and communities of color.
General Fund Raids Cap and Trade Revenues: California’s groundbreaking Cap and Trade program requires polluters to pay for emitting greenhouse gases that burden our air, water and soil. Program revenues–which are projected to generate $600 million in revenue during its first year (2012-2013)–were supposed to be dedicated to community projects that mitigate climate change and improve public health, including public transportation, biking and walking, affordable housing near transit, and urban green space. But the budget siphons off $500 million of those revenues as a loan to the general fund.
Local Public Health Funding Decimated: Over the next three years, the budget demands $2.5 billion in cuts from local public health departments and safety-net health care services. The administration has defended these cuts to county-level health funds, arguing that the Affordable Care Act will save local governments money by decreasing the number of uninsured people needing services, but the state is holding back much more money than counties are likely to save. The cuts will dramatically reduce support for proven public health and prevention efforts and weaken the network of safety-net clinics that will need to continue providing care to 3 to 4 million Californians likely to remain uninsured. A broad range of local elected officials, organizations, and editorial boards (San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times) have weighed in strongly against the cuts.
We understand the state’s desire to pass a “balanced” budget, but without vital investments in healthy, thriving communities, this budget isn’t balanced at all. In the long run, investments in prevention will save California more money than they cost upfront – and will save lives too.