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Report analyzes how California spends taxpayer money

February 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
As the State Legislature wrangles to come up with a new spending plan by June, a new report might open some eyes. California Common Sense analyzed state budgets from 2007 to the proposed budget for 2013/2014.

It found transportation spending for roads and transit went down by nearly one-third. Social services and public universities took a hit of 14 percent. But healthcare costs skyrocketed 62 percent. Retirement benefits jumped 25 percent, and employee compensation went up 16 percent.

Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo) is vice chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.

"The priorities of this building, the State Capitol, are not necessarily reflective of the priorities of Californians," said Gorell. "They want to see more investment in education and more investment in infrastructure."

But critics question the study's methodology. And even if you believe the numbers, they say they're being misinterpreted.

Mike Herald of the Western Center of Law and Poverty has been part of the budget fight for years, trying to save services for the poor. He says there are legal obligations the state must uphold.

It's in the state Constitution, for instance, that bondholders must be paid first. Labor contracts, too, where pay raises and pension payments are spelled out, would be subject to lawsuits if the state didn't live up to them.

"As money got very tight, we had to make payments to certain things that we have obligations, other programs took cuts," said Herald. "Yes, we have higher healthcare costs, but we added a couple of million people to the Medi-Cal rolls during the recession because people lost their healthcare. So yea, we're obligated to pick them up under the law."

Voters helped stabilize the budget by passing temporary tax hikes under Proposition 30. Gorell is pushing for lawmakers to freeze college tuition. Herald, on the other hand, hopes services are restored for needy families.

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