The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression continues to cause our revenues to lag behind the cost of essential public services, like schools, health care and prisons.
This year's shortfall is $2.6 billion. But this year’s shortfall is a much bigger problem than the $9 billion shortfall in 2009.
First, since we cut $3.3 billion dollars last year, the part of the budget that isn’t protected (federally, constitutionally or otherwise) is that much smaller. Where last year about 50 percent of the budget could not be cut, now the protected part of the pie is about 70 percent.
Second, we already eliminated waste, froze salaries, made layoffs, transferred funds and made cuts to programs that aren’t considered essential. Now were getting down to basic services. And, while last year we could make high-impact cuts by, for example, not funding I-728 for smaller classroom sizes ($600 million) or cutting enrollments at our universities ($557 million), this year we don’t have those kind of big increments available to us.
The Governor’s Office has shown us how hard it is to cut $2.6 billion without closing major institutions or putting public health and safety at risk.
If we eliminate all treatment and care for those with a mental illness or a developmental disability, we would only save around $1.6 billion – but at what cost?
If we eliminated all state prisons and community supervision of offenders, we would save around $1.6 billion, too – but, again, at what cost?
We could eliminate all care for low-income elderly individuals, and we would save less even than that: around $1.3 billion.
We could eliminate financial aid for college and save even less than that: around $500 million.
Our options for cutting programs to the tune of $2.6 billion appear penny-wise and pound-foolish, providing short-term savings but massive long-term costs.
Third, as noted earlier, the state budgets each biennium, or two-year cycle. Last year, we cut $3.3 billion from the start of the two-year period. But we’re now in the second part of the cycle, and are faced with cutting $2.6 billion after a good portion of the budget (around $9 million) has already been spent. This reduces the pie even further.
Fourth, while it was an enormous help to last year, our state won’t be receiving any federal stimulus dollars this time around.