Cuts mean more sacrifice than Californians realize

When I moved to California in 1978, I was stunned by the beauty and breadth of opportunity here, the same allure that has drawn millions of Americans and immigrants over the decades to start life anew in the Golden State.

Such optimism was rooted in more than sunshine and dreams. It was based on a willingness to invest in infrastructure, education and jobs. The beautiful beaches were open to all with free parking and restrooms. So different from New York and New England where miles of coast are hidden behind gated homes, off limits to the public. In San Diego, branch libraries and parks were adequate as well and highways were clean, landscaped and rarely congested.

The situation today is not as rosy. Although our population continues to grow, we no longer are able to make the necessary investments to accommodate the growth. Since September 2008, the state of California has cut its spending by roughly $40 billion and we are now spending at the same level that we did in 2005 when there were nearly 3 million fewer Californians. It's the result of a plummeting economy and the declining revenue from corporate taxes, personal income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes.

That's why I'm concerned when people come up to me and plead that we must cut government spending and get rid of the waste. After the most recent round of massive spending cuts there is little if any "wasteful" spending left to cut, and the dollars that do remain don't cover essential services for our most vulnerable Californians.

Whereas past budget cuts were disproportionately absorbed by the sick, poor and elderly, the latest round ensures that more Californians will feel some inconvenience and pain.

Obtaining basic services from the state will now be more difficult for all of us. Even departments with the highest public demand, like the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Employment Development Department, are being forced to close three days a month. That means we will have to wait longer to renew a driver's license or take a road exam. The office hour reductions at the EDD mean more delays for families desperately in need of their unemployment check.

Longstanding state programs like education are also threatened. Funding to the University of California and California State University systems, once the best public colleges in the United States, has been reduced by almost $1 billion each. This means fewer openings for qualified students, a smaller selection of classes, higher fees and increased tuition. At the secondary level, school districts across the state saw their funding cut and are laying off teachers; increasing class size; and eliminating band, art and athletic programs.

Not to be overlooked are drastic cuts to the Healthy Families, CalWORKS, and In-Home Supportive Services programs. These reductions mean fewer poor children receiving health insurance, more women with young children losing the financial assistance that helps them get back to work, and fewer seniors receiving the help that enables them to remain in their own homes.

All of these changes will be felt beyond just those immediately affected. If more children lose their state-sponsored health insurance, they and their families will flood emergency rooms as a last resort for basic care, overwhelming a part of the health care industry that is already swamped. Poor families who lose their benefits under CalWORKS may have to opt for living on the street as they can no longer pay their rent. This phenomenon will further strain police departments and homeless shelters, and in turn, lower the quality of life for all other Californians. And for the parents and grandparents who rely on an in-home attendant to cook, clean, and bathe them, they will lose much of their independence and savings as they are forced into more expensive nursing homes.

These cuts are not good for our state. We all understand tough economic times demand sacrifice, but we must protect essential services for the good of all Californians. That is why I supported a balanced approach of cuts and new revenue. Democratic and Republican voters already support an increase in the tobacco tax. We should also place a fee on oil companies that drill in California, since we're the only oil-producing state without an extraction charge. Such increases would raise state revenue by $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year, taking a significant bite out of the budget gap.

I believe most San Diegans appreciate the value of -- and need for -- clean water, safe roads, strong schools, and beautiful public parks and beaches. These are just some responsibilities of state government and that no reasonable person would call wasteful.

It's true that during an economic recession, living within your means is necessary. Some families forgo a summer trip, a new flat-screen television, or eating out. Others work longer hours or take a second job rather than lose the things they value.

The same parallel can be applied to state government. We have slashed our spending by $16.1 billion and now we must decide together on a fair way to raise the needed revenue to support the programs Californians want and need.

Sen. Kehoe represents the 39th district.

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