There are those who say California doesn’t have seasons. But sadly, when it comes to California’s chronic budget deficit, each fiscal year brings yet another dreary forecast calling for drastic cuts to services for our state’s most vulnerable residents. Such bad fiscal weather is largely due to the structural deficit that’s been in place in California for more than 10 years. But regardless of who the governor is, or who’s in the Legislature, we are stuck with the same cloudy outlook.
Seniors, the poor and the sick in California rely heavily on key state programs including MediCal, In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and SSI/SSP to name just a few. For these Californians, assistance from the state isn’t an “entitlement,” it’s oftentimes a lifeline in a time of economic crisis. For a senior confined to a wheelchair, it means having a professionally trained nurse come into the home to ensure that the medical regimen is on track and effective. For a family of four that has experienced long-term unemployment, running out of financial resources, it means being able to provide asthma treatment for their youngest child without worrying about the cost of the pharmacy co-pay. And for people with disabilities, it means getting assistance with regularly delivered, nutritious meals that they would be unable to prepare or cook by themselves.
Proposition 30 is a sensible approach to creating shorter-term yet substantive changes that will help preserve critical programs. We are strong supporters of Proposition 30 not only because it will preserve funding for schools and law enforcement, but also because it will help stabilize California’s budget, combine spending cuts with additional revenues and preserve key social service programs that millions of Californians depend on. If passed, the initiative would raise California’s sales tax by 1/4 of a cent for four years and increase state income tax rates for individuals earning more than $250,000 through the year 2018.
Proposition 30 isn’t a panacea, but it is part of the budget puzzle than can help the state return to fiscal viability. Even with the passage of Proposition 30, we expect additional cuts to the types of programs administered by social service organizations throughout the state: care management to keep chronically ill adults out of far more expensive nursing homes, shelter services for victims of domestic violence, protective services for older adults, and transportation programs to give basic mobility to seniors and people with disabilities who are unable to drive themselves. But without the passage of Proposition 30, these programs are likely to be absolutely decimated, with catastrophic effects.
In the wake of the Great Recession, California’s policymakers, and now the general electorate, must make difficult choices: Should we continue to go with the status quo, leaving older, lower-income Californians to wither on the vine? Or should we create a system where the wealthiest of the wealthy, quite literally the top 1 percent of taxpayers (those earning an annual income of $533,000 or more), can help right the state’s fiscal ship and take care of those who need help the most?
We’ve certainly heard the arguments that increasing taxes during difficult economic times isn’t the right approach. Quite simply, we don’t buy them. If Proposition 30 were to fail, and government programs were to be drastically cut, not only would the reduction in services impact millions of Californians, but it would actually translate into less money being spent by lower- and middle-income families on basic household needs. Without such spending, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has determined, merely cutting state spending without raising taxes could further stall the economy — the last thing California needs at this juncture. What’s more, the tax increases are temporary, expiring beginning in 2016, giving time for the state’s economy to recover, for the Legislature to further reduce spending, and for California to ultimately find a more stable fiscal path.
For those of us who provide social services to the thousands of clients who walk through our door each day, Proposition 30 is not about politics. It’s about ensuring that Californians who so desperately need help, especially when it comes to health care, mental health services and social services, continue to have access to essential programs that help the needy among us maintain a very basic, no-frills quality of life — one that shouldn’t merely be a California dream. Such a life should be a California reality.
Former Assembly member Terry Friedman is president of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles. Paul S. Castro is JFS chief executive officer.