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California now faces budget cuts "beyond draconian"

One of the first targets is 200 state parks, already causing a public outcry as summer approaches.

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Before this state’s May 19 vote on five initiatives intended to solve the state’s chronic fiscal difficulties, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- in person on the stump and via TV ad blitzes up and down the state -- told voters that if the measures did not pass, the resulting budget cuts would be “draconian.”

In the days after the measures went down in flames, the announcements have come rapid fire, and various constituencies are reeling -- calling the cuts “beyond draconian.”

Some 235,000 state workers will have to take a 5 percent pay cut. Of the state’s 279 state parks, 200 will be closed. Schwarzenegger’s plan to dismantle the Cal Grant program -- considered one of the nation’s best programs to help poorer students cover full fees or tuition at public colleges -- would make California the first US state to eliminate student financial aid while raising tuition.

The list goes on and on:

A massive plan to overhaul healthcare in state prisons will be scaled back. A Senate bill which would have created a state-run system to provide healthcare to every Californian has been scrapped. A CalWorks program providing medical, dental, and vision care to 90,000 children will be eliminated. Hundreds of new spending programs have been sidelined, and the local budgets of cities and counties have been raided to make ends meet.

“We recognize the fiscal situation in California, and as much as we would love to be doing new and different things in California, we simply don’t have the money,” says Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) of Sacramento. After closing a $41.5 billion budget gap in February, the state has another $24.3 billion deficit in a $92 billion general fund budget.

Besides the pay cuts to state workers, one of the most highly-visible and painful cutbacks will be the closure of state parks, not just at the beginning of the summer season in which they are needed most, but in a recession year in which many vacationers are opting to say close to home to save money.

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