Educators were cautiously optimistic about Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed $82.9 million state budget, while government leaders braced for potentially devastating cuts.
Schools welcomed the governor's pledge to protect their funding, but questioned how he would accomplish it.
City and county officials said they were bracing for another tough year — one that could go from bad to worse if the governor doesn't win the federal dollars he needs to plug California's projected $20 billion budget deficit.
County leaders spent Friday poring over the 200-plus page spending plan, said Patty Hill Thomas, Stanislaus County's assistant executive officer.
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"It looks at first glance that many of these budget proposals would significantly impact our local safety net programs, health programs and mental health programs," Hill Thomas said. "Those all mean something to the people in this community who have no place to turn."
Most concerning were the deep cuts the governor said he'd call for if the federal government doesn't provide $6.9 billion in funding he requested, Hill Thomas said.
If the federal dollars don't come through, the state could slash spending for mental health services, reduce health insurance programs for poor families and eliminate CalWORKS, the state's welfare-to-work program, Hill Thomas said.
Also on the table: cutting the in-home supportive services program, which pays for services disabled people receive at home. The program keeps the elderly and disabled out of institutions and provides income for family members who care for them.
In Stanislaus County, the program pays for the care of 6,300 people. "The total elimination of the program would be ... I can't think of a better word than devastating," Hill Thomas said.
Advocates for the disabled wasted no time sounding the alarm Friday. The Disability Resource Agency for Independent Living in Modesto held a news conference where people who use in-home supportive services told stories of what the program means for them.
Among them was 32-year-old Astrid Zuniga. She quit her job selling insurance so she could care full time for her 11-year-old autistic son, Manuel. He is wheelchair-bound and unable to use the bathroom himself. The in-home supportive services program pays her.
"If they were to cut that program, that would put a damper on me paying my bills," Zuniga said. "My husband works, but it makes life a little easier to have those few extra dollars so you can pay the (Turlock Irrigation District) bill in full instead of making a partial payment."
For Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour, the part of the governor's proposal that drew the most concern was a plan to rework how gas taxes are collected. Cities rely on the gas tax funds to pay for public transportation and road repairs.
In the last budget year, the state made a grab at those dollars, but cities sued successfully to stop that. This year, the state is trying the same move using a different strategy, Ridenour said. "The way I'm reading it, it sounds to me like the governor's going to reduce one tax and increase another one," he said. "It will be less money for buses and less money coming in for roads."
Educators seemed less grim. Schwarzenegger's proposal calls for decreasing some K-12 funding by 0.2 percent and increasing community college, California State University and University of California general fund spending by 3.5 percent.
CSU Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani called the governor's proposal to spare higher education "quite exciting." If the Legislature agrees, Stanislaus stands to get the $13.5 million it lost last year, plus another $6 million to $7 million, Shirvani said. "I could use every penny of it," he said.
The money will allow the campus to rehire some part-time faculty and restore some of the classes it cut.
After years of drastic cuts to education and less severe trims to the prison system, Schwarzenegger's turnaround might be part of the legacy the governor wants to leave, said Roe Darnell, chancellor of the Yosemite Community College District, which includes Modesto Junior College and Columbia College. "I'm glad he's recognizing the place of community colleges in (the state's) economic recovery," Darnell said.
Educators were quick to point out that Friday's plan is not final and that it will change several times in coming months.
"I'm very hopeful that the governor is trying to stick to his word that he's making education a priority," said Scott Siegel, deputy superintendent of the Ceres Unified School District.
But even if Schwarzenegger isolates education from cuts next year, Siegel said, schools aren't out of the woods. For example, Ceres Unified officials estimate they'll still need to cut $3 million to $4 million from the 2010-11 budget.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra contributed to this report.
Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.