State budget cuts would hit GOP areas hardest
Solutions to the state's $42 billion budget gap remain elusive as Republican lawmakers rebuff proposals for new taxes, arguing that California spends too much. But parts of the state that the GOP legislators represent would be hurt most by deep cuts, according to a Chronicle analysis of state data.
Counties in far Northern California and the Central Valley, where both Republican leaders of the Legislature live, receive far more state money per capita for education, health, welfare and prisons than the Bay Area or the coastal region, according to a report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.
Modoc, Kings, Tulare, Yuba and Fresno counties consume far more state dollars than they contribute, the report found. Modoc County, for example, contributed $768 per capita in taxes to the state's general fund while receiving $2,216 from the state.
Marin County was the biggest tax donor among the state's 58 counties, contributing $4,793 per person to the state's coffers while receiving just $606 in state services. San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties rounded out the top four donor counties, while four other Bay Area counties were in the top dozen contributors to the state's coffers on a per capita basis.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, said she was "shocked and surprised by these figures."
"I think it stands to reason that we should look at these expenditure numbers (to counties) again," she said. "This should be part of the budget discussion as well."
The numbers show the irony of Republican lawmakers' insistence on cutting state spending while refusing to support tax increases to help close the state's widening budget hole, said Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who requested the state report that was completed in December.
"My Republican colleagues from these counties are the ones who want to propose an all-cuts budget (even though) the burden primarily falls on their own constituents," she said. "And that they oppose new revenues (even though) the burden falls primarily on Democratic constituents."
But Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines of Clovis, whose district includes Fresno County, said, "You can't pick winners and losers, you just have to solve the (budget) problem overall.
"I'm very sensitive to make sure that rural counties don't take a disproportional hit, but there has to be cuts across the board as a component of the budget."
Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen of Gerber (Tehama County), whose district includes Modoc County, agreed that cutting state funds affects small, rural counties like those in his district more severely because they often lack large reserves that bigger counties enjoy. Still, he reiterated that raising taxes is not the way to solve the state's fiscal woes.
"Raising taxes to cover this deficit only feeds a broken budget," he said. "That's why a spending cap is a must to get spending under control."
But limiting spending will be more problematic for regions of the state that rely heavily on state funds, experts say. Cuts in Medi-Cal, for example, would hit rural counties the hardest because hospitals and clinics that serve those areas rely more on such assistance to keep their doors open for the rest of the community, said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan Sacramento think tank.
"I think it draws into question if certain elected officials are acting in the best interest of their communities," she said.
Chris Schneider, executive director of Central California Legal Services, said he is angry and frustrated that his representatives are out of touch with how the budget crunch can affect so many people.
The number of people coming through his doors asking for help applying for unemployment or other social services has drastically increased in recent months, he said.
"One of the hardest things for us is having to tell someone who qualifies for a benefit that we can't help because there's no resources," he said.
But Villines' spokeswoman Jennifer Gibbons said Republicans don't like cuts either.
"It's not easy for Republicans to make cuts because making cuts does hurt our constituents," she said. "But we are in a crisis and we're a family, and everyone's going to have to share in the pain if this will ever come to a resolution."
About the data
The Legislative Analyst's Office collected personal income tax data from the Franchise Tax Board, while sales and use-tax figures were obtained from the Board of Equalization. Both sets of numbers were from 2006, the latest complete figures available, said Michael Cohen, a deputy legislative analyst.
The analyst's office obtained actual county-by-county expenditure figures in the 2007-08 fiscal year, which ended in June, from various state agencies that administered those programs. The categories were K-12 schools, State Supplementary Program, In-Home Supportive Services, Medi-Cal, prisons, parole and mental health.
Those categories represent more than 50 percent of the state's roughly $100 billion general fund budget, Cohen said. The expenditures don't include higher-education funds and about one-third of the K-12 expenses earmarked for specific programs such as special education because those categories were difficult to track county-by-county, he said.
The Chronicle analyzed the data by aggregating the taxes and expenditures on a per capita basis and ranking them.
Bay Area gives more, spends less
Counties in the region contributed the most taxes per capita to the state's coffers in 2006 while those elsewhere in Northern California and in the Central Valley spent the most state funds per capita for health, welfare and other services in the fiscal year that ended in June.
Marin County: $4,793
San Mateo County: $4,232
San Francisco County: $3,578
Santa Clara County: $3,264
Placer County: $2,540
Biggest spenders for services
Tulare County: $2,223
Modoc County: $2,216
Lake County: $2,055
Yuba County: $2,049
Fresno County: $2,030
Source: Legislative Analyst's Office