The cure to fiscal woes is a ruthless battle-axe – like me |

The cure to fiscal woes is a ruthless battle-axe – like me

Among the many things I’ve been accused of being in my life, extravagant is not one of them. I cut corners everywhere, be it by going to bed early to save an hour’s worth of electricity, using coupons to buy food or taking shortcuts to save shoe tread.

So when I heard of the Sacramento Bee’s challenge to citizens to balance the California budget, I was all over it. This will be easy, I told myself as I accessed the interactive Budget Game. Couple billion here, couple billion there – I’ll have their $35 billion deficit filled in no time.

Before a player can start indiscriminately whacking (Department of Affairs for the Small Alliances of Good News – WHACK!), one must understand what money is spent where, why it is needed and whether or not California law allows it to be cut.

The numbers are based on those from 1998 and compared to proposed budget needs for 2003. Why 1998, I don’t know, but it seems fair to me. I, Jane Taxpayer, have had to tighten a few belt notches since 1998, and if I did, so can California!

Let the whacking begin!

The game begins easily enough, in Bureaucracy. California is all about bureaucracy. The number of legislators added to the payroll has increased 8 percent since 1998 – and payroll has increased 28.4 percent. When was the last time your pay increased 28 percent? WHACK!

In the legislative, judicial and executive departments, I plan to roll costs back to 1998 numbers. WHACK! I just saved California taxpayers $58 million.

The same goes for community colleges, where payroll units (read: people) have decreased 2.3 percent since 1998 – yet payroll costs (read: dollars) have increased 24 percent. WHACK!

Social Security Insurance: I agree with their gov. Save $800 million in hiring costs and reduce grants 6 percent. WHACK! California pays the most money to SSI when compared to the other big states.

Cal-Works, a welfare program for single mothers, won’t see my battle-axe. Since 1995, the number of people in the program has decreased 12 percent. It’s working. Leave it be. Also, California spends the legal minimum in this department; any less and the feds would cut off the $2 billion it contributes.

Environmental protection? Five words: Fine the polluters. Gouge them.

More than $10 billion is spent on Medi-Cal, California’s supplemental health insurance for low-income folks, but it’s less per patient than what other big states pay. Reform the health insurance industry. Gut it, eviscerate it, twist the scalpel until it works.

Corrections: In 1998, California spent $4 billion to keep criminals behind bars. That increased to $4.8 billion by 2003, 25 percent in the payroll alone. And 55 percent of those behind bars are there for petty crimes. Letting them go saves $2.64 billion. WHACK!

Community colleges are funded by the state and provide many the opportunity to advance from welfare to work. Call me a bleedin’ liberal – it’s been said before – but I say keep the funding. But increase the cost per credit! Students pay $11 per credit! The gov wants it to be $24 per unit! I say $50, and use the $26 difference to help low-income students.

Public universities. You say tomahto, I say cash cows. This is a $6 billion industry in California. As much as I support education, I believe tenured professors, who often make six-digit salaries but leave the teaching to grad students, should have a 50 percent reduction in pay. WHACK!

Not so for K-12. Leave it be. Beef it up if possible.

Then there are the benefits retired state employees soak up each year – to the tune of $600 million a year! Employers in the private sector don’t provide life-long benefits anymore; neither should the state. WHACK!

Then there’s “General,” under which $3 billion could be saved by cutting subsidies to counties that collect money under the guise of “relief from the car tax reduction,” whatever that is. WHACK, WHACK, WHACK! Cut off retired state employees’ dental insurance: $250 million. WHACK!

And taxes. Raise the vehicle license fee by $10 on a $20,000 car. Four billion – ka-ching! Raise another $4 billion by increasing the state sales tax a penny. Raise $2 billion by applying sales taxes to recreation and state parks.

I am opposed to the proposal that would raise $1.8 million by charging a 5 percent “surcharge” on income taxes. A tax on a tax? Get out.

Triple alcohol taxes by “a nickel a drink” and raise $500 million. Raise $475 million by taxing cigarettes an additional 50 cents.

Voila. I’m not sure I made up the $35 billion California needs, but I put a serious dent in it.

I’d send my suggestions to California legislators, but I’m not sure they still have jobs.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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