With budget cuts in aid to poor and health care, California enters 'new era'

September 03, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The California state government has given notice that it would no longer try to be all things to all people.

With the stroke of Gov. Pete Wilson's pen, a new budget went into effect yesterday that ended an era and cut deeply into the principles California politicians have traditionally cherished: that government would provide a safety net for the poor, that it would ensure access to higher education for everyone and that it would guarantee that no one -- even the poorest resident -- would be denied basic health care.

Mr. Wilson's signature culminated what was essentially a two-year effort to pare back government and reduce the costs of the hundreds of services it provides for people.

The ink was barely dry before the gears of the bureaucracy were in motion setting the stage for reductions in welfare benefits for poor women and children, cutbacks in state aid to the aged, blind and disabled, reductions in payments to doctors, clinics and hospitals that care for the needy and centers that serve the developmentally disabled, curtailments of programs for the young and the elderly and cuts in higher education.

"This is a year in which we are downscaling and downsizing everything," said Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a Democrat.

For the state's residents, the cuts will mean one more shock to the California way of life. In the future, it will be harder to get into and afford state colleges. It will be more difficult for poor families, the elderly and disabled to subsist on government aid. It will be tougher for those with developmental disabilities such as mental retardation to get services. It will be more inconvenient to obtain licenses, inspections and fulfill other requirements of state government.

"Everybody says let's pass the budget. Everything will be fine if we pass the budget," said Assemblyman Dan Hauser. "Now, we've passed the budget and it's going to be hell out there."

Calling the passage of the new budget a "dark moment" in California history, Assemblyman Bruce Bronzan said that it begins a "new chapter and a new era" where government no longer sees itself as obligated to provide for its poorest citizens. "We have this terrible recession and the people that we're hurting the worst are the people at the bottom," he said.

Republicans who scored a major victory in the passage of a budget that reduced government expenditures without major tax increases also saw the new spending plan as a turning point for state government -- but without the dark overtones.

"The purpose of government is not to give you a lifestyle but to help you out. We've created three generations of people who say 'You've got to take care of me,'" said Assemblyman B.T. Collins. "We've finally stood up and said, 'Folks, we're out of money.' "

To help balance a budget that was out of money, the governor and legislature, for the first time ever, enacted reductions in services it provides the elderly, blind and disabled, a politically powerful group that is seldom targeted for budget cutting. The state portion of the aid to the aged, blind and disabled program was cut by an average 5.8 percent.

For the second year in a row, poor families -- primarily mothers and children -- who receive government aid under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children, will see a substantial cut in their monthly cash benefits. Beginning Oct. 1, the grants will be cut an average 4.5 percent to be followed, pending federal approval, by an additional cut of 1.3 percent about a month later. It will be offset slightly by an increase in food stamps.

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