At the same time Schwarzenegger is pumping money into after-school programs, he is proposing cuts in other social service programs, such as withholding $48 million in cost-of-living adjustments to senior citizens and others on the State Supplementary Program, he noted. “This requires a certain amount of money (be allocated) even if the programs aren’t ready to go,” Laird said. “It would be more important to have the flexibility to spend only when they’re ready, rather than to have to hold money back that isn’t ready to be used, when seniors aren’t getting their (SSP) cost-of-living increase.” Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuez, D-Los Angeles, and Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill have suggested that the state should consider asking voters to modify the measure, possibly on the June ballot. There are at least two other major “auto-pilot” ballot measures that restrict the state’s ability to spend funds: Proposition 98, which guarantees substantial funding for education, locking up more than 40 percent of the state general fund; and Proposition 42, which dedicates the sales tax on gasoline to transportation projects. Last year, when Schwarzenegger launched his budget and government reform proposals, he complained about those measures tying his hands when it came to shaping the state’s spending priorities. But Propositions 98 and 42 can be suspended by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Proposition 49 cannot. Schwarzenegger argues that 49 is different because it only is triggered after state revenues increase by a certain amount. “Prop. 49 was done in the most responsible way because what we did was instead of wanting to increase taxes … we went the responsible way by saying, OK, let us go and say that we want to have money for after-school programs, but only if our revenues hit a certain level,” the governor said during his press conference to release the budget. “So we waited for four years. It was passed in 2002, now it’s 2006. We waited for four years, and now in this new budget year it will kick in. So I think that’s the right way to go, that you wait your turn rather than just forcing your way in and crowding out other programs.” Those who run after-school programs said they are desperately needed. They help keep children busy and out of trouble after class and provide them with additional education and physical fitness at a time when California’s schools are lagging other states in test scores, and its children are dealing with unprecedented levels of childhood obesity. They also help economic development by allowing parents to remain at work when their children finish school, supporters say. Carla Sanger, president of the nationally recognized L.A.’s BEST after-school program, said it is still unclear how the new state funding will affect her programs because she anticipates a decrease in federal funds. L.A.’s BEST, or Better Educated Students for Tomorrow, was established in 1988 and now serves 24,000 children in 147 schools throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District. Schwarzenegger consulted Sanger as he was crafting Proposition 49. L.A.’s BEST is planning to release a study soon that shows substantial benefits for the kids in the program, including significantly lower dropout rates, she said. The program more than pays for itself in several ways beyond just the direct benefit to children, Sanger argued. For one, it helps increase school attendance, which is important to local districts that receive funding partly based on average daily attendance. It also provides additional benefits to the community, including jobs and serving as an entry point for teacher training. “This is probably one of the most important programs that government could fund,” Sanger said. Her program is funded through $21 million in grants; $9.9 million from the state general fund; about $6 million from the city of Los Angeles and $3.5 million in federal funds. L.A. Unified provides free facilities and insurance, which she estimates is worth around $15 million. The free program is focused in the city’s poorer neighborhoods but does not require parents to show any income eligibility. Michelle Diggs, who runs the L.A.’s BEST after-school program at Limerick Elementary School in Northridge, said there is a strong demand for expansion of her program and others like it throughout the San Fernando Valley. The program is not, as some critics think, just baby-sitting for busy parents, she said. It offers recreational and educational activities, from helping kids with their homework to aerobics and quilting. The school’s Spanish-speaking parents particularly appreciate the homework help, Diggs said, because they themselves are often not able to help with English-language assignments. Her program has 220 children and a waiting list of 45 more. She had been expecting to reduce it to 200 next year, although that could change if the additional state funding comes through. “It’s so hard because the parents don’t understand,” Diggs said. “I say, Look, we can only take so many.” Harrison Sheppard, (916) 446-6723 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SACRAMENTO – For the first time since then-private citizen Arnold Schwarzenegger persuaded voters to pass Proposition 49 in 2002, the state will start spending more than $500 million on after-school programs next year. Under Schwarzenegger’s proposed 2006-07 budget, the state will spend an additional $428 million on after-school programs under Proposition 49, bringing the total funding for those programs to $550 million. That is new spending required for the first time under Proposition 49 as triggered by an increase in state revenue, although it is not supported by new taxes or other revenue sources. But some critics say the measure is an example of the “auto-pilot spending” that now-Gov. Schwarzenegger has derided since taking office, and some Democratic legislators think the state should ask voters to repeal or modify it. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card Among the groups who opposed the measure in 2002 was the League of Women Voters of California, which argues that the state’s current fiscal situation justifies the concerns expressed then. “We opposed Proposition 49 because we thought it was poor policy,” said league program director Trudy Schafer. “It’s more of the auto-pilot spending that many policymakers object to, including the governor himself. We think what we’re seeing now is an illustration of the things we objected to.” Even though the program has a trigger tied to revenue, she said, it is still taking more decision-making authority out of the hands of the state officials elected to make budget and policy decisions. Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, chairman of the budget committee, agrees Prop. 49 seems to fit the governor’s definition of “auto-pilot spending.” One of the problems, he said, is the state has to allocate the funds even if the programs aren’t ready to spend the money immediately, meaning funds could sit around unspent while other, more needy programs remain underfunded.