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California Budget Crisis Diaries: State spends $75 million on furnishings and more

There’s a lot on tap in California budget news this week. You have a report on multimillion-dollar expenditures, attempts to revamp California’s Constitution, more angry students and governor-hopefuls criticizing the welfare system.

Here is your latest edition of California Budget Crisis Diaries.

Still shopping
California employees spent about $75 million on furnishings last fiscal year.

According to The Los Angeles Times, “bureaucrats spent nearly $45 million on new vehicles, almost $30 million on new furniture and more than $2 million on off-site meetings and conference.”

The discovery was reported by the State Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review on Monday, Feb. 8. But “some agencies” are defending its expenditures:

“Some agencies said they spent only what was budgeted and necessary to do their jobs."

The report says that the California Air Resources Board spent $433,000 on furniture last year. Agency spokesman Stanley Young said much of the cost was for building cubicles for new employees at its El Monte office.

“We expanded our staff in a couple of areas, and we first checked with other government agencies to see if they had any surplus furniture,” Young said.

The agency with the biggest furnishings bill, according to the review, was the Department of Motor Vehicles, which spent $1.7 million. A spokesman said he could not comment because he had not seen the report.”

Change the Constitution
Experts have said for years that if California’s Constitution were to receive a makeover, budget impasses would cease to exist. Now, groups are pushing for those major changes to the Constitution.

According to The Wall Street Journal, with “what promises to be another season of bickering over the state’s big budget shortfall for the current fiscal year,” some aren’t taking the back seat.

“Two groups are pushing ballot initiatives they say would purge that chaos from Sacramento’s budget process. A bipartisan group, California Forward, is pushing a reform to let legislators pass budgets by a simple majority instead of the current two-thirds threshold. Repair California, which is affiliated with a pro-business group, is gathering support to hold a constitutional convention to rewrite state laws. Such a convention could alter the budget process and other facets of governance in California.”

Despite these efforts, the Journal reports that “prior efforts to fix California’s budget process have failed.”

It’s a revolution
Hector Tobar of The Los Angeles Times wrote a noteworthy opinion piece about California students Monday.

Tobar, as have many other columnists in the past months, compared today’s student protests to those of the 1960s. However, he takes his column to different levels by interviewing a couple students.

One student, he writes, introduces himself as “Ricardo Flores Magon,” a revolutionary leader from the last century. His real name is Adan Garcia, a 24-year-old graduate student at Cal State University Northridge.

"Flores Magon once lived in exile in Los Angeles. Garcia, a graduate student, is from East Los Angeles. At Garfield High, ‘I took machine shop twice and cooking twice, and no one ever told me to go to college,’ he told me. Cal State has opened up new worlds to him. ‘I want to make sure it’s still here when my little sister goes to college.’ Talking to Garcia and others, and watching them earnestly trying to follow the teach-ins’ history lessons, I hoped I was seeing the beginning of something.”

The gist of his column? A revolution may be on the horizon.

“Some people will tell you that today’s Cal State students are either too self-centered or too poor to change the political equations in Sacramento. After my visit to Cal State Northridge, I’m not sure I believe that — because in the eyes of a handful of students, I saw something familiar. It’s that steely determination you get when you’ve taken one step out of poverty and refuse to go back to that dark and desperate place.”

Hot social topic
Welfare has become a hot topic in the California governor’s race as candidates now have less than eight months to convince voters he or she is the most appropriate person for the seat.

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, Republican candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner are criticizing the social assistance program.

“GOP candidate Steve Poizner, the state’s insurance commissioner, first raised the issue in October, declaring that welfare should be a ‘transitional assistance program, not a permanent way of life.’ And last month Poizner’s opponent, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, made welfare reform the subject of her first ad focusing on a single policy issue.

In the radio spot, Whitman picked up on a statistic also used by Poizner: California is home to 12 percent of the nation’s people but more than 30 percent of its welfare recipients.

Nobody disputes the figures. And they’re often cited by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who for years has proposed major changes in CalWorks, the state’s welfare-to-work program. He is now threatening to eliminate CalWorks and other social programs if the federal government doesn’t cough up additional billions for California.

But many welfare experts and advocates for the poor are crying foul over the latest rhetoric, including Whitman’s on-air assertion that ‘California is the welfare state.’”

Hoa Quach is the political editor for the San Diego News Network