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State Budget Q&A: Answering reader questions

July 21, 2009 | 10:59 am

Budget Q&A Government officials and the public today are beginning to understand the impact of the state budget deal reached last night. The deal calls for major cuts in spending -- including reductions in healthcare, transportation, welfare, education and law enforcement services. Times reporter Cara Mia DiMassa is answering reader questions about the budget deal, based on reporting from The Times' staff across the state.

Q: What will be the effect of this budget deal for local governments?

A: City and county governments have been scrambling today to understand how the budget deal reached Monday might affect their bottom line.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted earlier today to sue state lawmakers if they pursue plans to seize local redevelopment and highway taxes to cover the state budget deficit. Los Angeles County stands to lose $109 million in gas taxes and $313.4 million in redevelopment project funds next year. Orange County faces a loss of $89 million to $93 million.

In Glendale, City Manager Jim Starbird said the cuts could result in the city canceling improvements to libraries and parks. And Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency Chief Executive Cecilia Estolano said her agency was looking at a $72-million shortfall.

The cuts to local government will not take effect until Dec. 1, to allow the state to ask the courts to validate an alternative that would provide at least $7.4 billion through the extension of redevelopment programs.

Q: Is there any indication in this budget that state workers’ furlough will end come June 30, 2010?

A: Yes. At the moment, the furloughing of state workers comes to an end June 30, 2010 — although it could be renewed or extended later.

Q: What about education funding?

The budget calls for making $6 billion in cuts to K-12 and community colleges. My colleague Seema Mehta interviewed state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell earlier today, and he said those cuts are to be made through the elimination of state funding for new textbooks for five years, eliminating a requirement that special-education students must pass the high school exit exam to obtain a high school diploma and reducing the state’s school-year minimum from 180 days to 175.

O’Connell, who was briefed about the proposal but hadn't seen the actual text, said he was pleased that Proposition 98 — the state’s guarantee that schools receive roughly 40% of state spending — was not suspended, as had been threatened in recent weeks.

O'Connell said he had been told that schools would eventually get the $9 billion they are owed from past cuts, but he is concerned that the details of that reimbursement are still vague.

Q: Is the state still going to sell its share of the Los Angeles Coliseum?

A: Gov. Schwarzenegger's May budget proposal called for selling the Los Angeles Coliseum and Sports Arena, San Quentin State Prison and fairgrounds in Ventura, Orange and San Diego counties. (The state, by the way, owns the land on which the coliseum and sports arena sit; the stadium itself is owned in equal parts by the city, county and state--a fact that would make any potential sale a complicated one.)

Under the budget deal reached Monday, only the Orange County Fairgrounds is approved for sale. The governor also will get the authority to sell and leaseback about 10 state office buildings, including the Reagan building in downtown Los Angeles and the Public Utilities Commission building in San Francisco. But the fate of the Coliseum is still up in the air, as other sites could be approved for sale later.

Q: What happened to the plan to close state parks?

A: In his original budget plan, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed indefinitely closing 220 state parks, or 80% of the state park system, to save about $143 million. But under the budget deal struck Monday, such drastic closures are off the table. Instead, my colleague Michael Rothfeld reports, only about $8 million would be cut from state park funding. That would keep about 88% of funding for parks intact--and mean that while some parks could close, most would remain open.

Q: Is it true that the state plans to allow oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast?

A: Yes. Under the budget agreement reached Monday night, the state would permit the drilling of oil off the Santa Barbara coast. Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California, an advocacy group, condemned the plan today, saying that it's the first time in 40 years that area would be open to drilling. “Our coast is our economy, and our economy is our coast," Jacobson said in a statement.

Q: Is this budget a done deal or can more changes be made? 

A: The Legislature could vote on the budget deal as soon as Thursday. And there is concern from some who hammered out the deal that it could unravel as interest groups catch wind of its contents and pressure the rank-and-file to reject it. Some groups and local governments are already preparing lawsuits to challenge the agreement if it passes. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted this morning to sue state lawmakers if they pursue plans to seize local redevelopment and highway taxes to cover the state budget deficit.

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