What a Mess We’re In

The California budget crisis has been raging for almost two years now. It seems to me that the effort to preserve funding for critical programs has been never-ending, and it’s getting harder all the time. The legislature and the Governor have slashed and burned so many important programs, from our teen parent programs and teen pregnancy prevention programs, to HIV/STI programs, education, health (and safety net services)… the list goes on and on. How much more can we take?

The irony is that many of these programs, although they do cost money in the short term, actually SAVE money in the long run. By helping teens stay in school, educating them about risk reduction, health and safety, and making sure that children of school age parents have access to early care and education to spur their development, we reduce the number of high-school dropouts, the Cal-WORKS caseload, and the burden of clinics who provide services related to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections . At the same time we’re increasing the number of qualified workers in the state, improving health outcomes of children (which in turn saves the State money on medical care), and helps to break the cycle of poverty. Anyone with a long-term interest in the health and well-being of Californians should understand that even in troubled times such as these, programs such as the ones we represent can’t be eliminated.

There are those in politics who feel that our budget crisis should be handled by making cuts to programs, and not increasing our revenue at all. They feel that it’s “only fair” that their taxes not be raised and their businesses not have to pay. First, this is erroneous thinking. It’s not fair to expect the burden of the financial solution to fall solely on the heads of young people and the elderly, or on people who rely on public services. They didn’t make this mess–the irresponsibility of the banking and mortgage industries are just two examples of some of the many sectors who are really to blame for what’s happened here. Second, it’s naive to think that eliminating after-school programs, health education, daycare, or intervention programs touches only the people who use these services. When the quality of life of a group of people—no matter how disparate—suffers, that suffering reaches beyond the boundaries of that specific population. Cuts to education, for example, don’t hurt only families that have children; when school programs are cut it means that young people aren’t as well-trained or prepared to participate meaningfully in society. Businesses have fewer qualified candidates for jobs, technology firms fall behind for lack of skilled workers, and those who would prefer to be gainfully employed can’t find work and must rely on public assistance. These effects will all be the fallout from our legislators’ current slash and burn attitudes.

Yes, I know we’re in a bind, and yes, I know that whatever solution we come up with to get out of this mess won’t be pretty. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater—instead, let’s work together to find a solution that works for ALL Californians, not just the rich and powerful.

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