Skip to navigation

Skip to main content

Rural Migration News

contact us

January 2003, Volume 9, Number 1

California Politics, Housing, Welfare, Budget

Voters in California went to the polls on November 5, 2002 and elected Democrats to virtually all statewide offices- Democrats also control the Senate 26-14 and the Assembly 50-30. The so-called Latino-liberal-labor alliance elected more liberal Democrats in the Legislature, while the Republicans who were elected are more conservative, setting the stage for contentious fights over budget deficits and other state issues.

Latinos cast 13 percent of California's vote in 2000, and they were expected to cast 16 percent of the vote in 2002. However, voter turnout was low in November 2002, and the Los Angeles Times estimated that Latinos cast only 10 percent of the vote. Whites cast 75 percent of California's votes, prompting the observation that politicians must appeal to non-Hispanic whites to get elected, but many of the pressing issues affect non-voting Hispanics.

The Public Policy Institute of California issued a report in October 2002 that concluded that 20 percent of California children under five lived in homes with incomes below the poverty line, and that the poverty rate for young children was 40 percent in the San Joaquin Valley. PPIC reported that nearly half of all children in California have at least one foreign-born parent, three-fourths of them are Latino, and more than half of immigrant parents lack high school diplomas.

The United Farm Workers led a drive to motivate thousands of Latinos who are new or occasional voters to cast ballots, but the Fresno Bee said that the UFW effort "fell short." In the 30th Assembly District in the San Joaquin Valley, the UFW supported Democrat Nicole Parra; in the 12th Senate district, Democrat Rusty Areias, and in the 80th Assembly district in the Imperial Valley, Democrat Joey Acuna. Cruz Bustamante was re-elected lieutenant governor, making him the highest-ranking elected Hispanic. Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the western region of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), led a get-out-the-vote effort in Los Angeles that is credited with getting some newly naturalized Hispanics to vote.

Parlier, a city of 12,000 sometimes described as an overgrown labor camp, has had very contentious politics. Luis Patlan resigned as Parlier's mayor, and Armando Lopez won 60 percent of the vote in November 2002 to replace him. Lopez was chair of the United Health Centers in 1997, which provides medical care to farm workers, when the federal government refused to renew a $2.6 million grant because Lopez's company, Publicador Hispano, received contracts for $180,000 for printing services. Lopez was president of Parlier's Chamber of Commerce in 2002.

Much of the controversy in Parlier revolves around the city's police department- the city has had 14 police chiefs in 11 years. In 2000, the Fresno County Grand Jury said the fact that police officer Henry Pruneda was married to City Council Member Irma Pruneda illustrated the nepotism in Parlier politics. Pruneda was eventually fired for using his police pager number to solicit sex, and his wife was defeated for re-election, along with two allies. In Huron, three incumbents on the city council were also defeated, and there was turnover in Mendota and Kerman.

Poor San Joaquin Valley cities sometimes try unusual strategies to develop. The city of San Joaquin issued more than $58 million in municipal bonds to a developer for an upscale 3,000-home community on the Madera County side of the San Joaquin River. The city of San Joaquin, with 3,200 residents, issued the tax-exempt bonds under a state law aimed at helping small cities pool their bonding authority for projects that have a public benefit, but the planned community in this case was 50 miles away and in another county.

The IRS declared one of the bonds issued by San Joaquin to be "a private loan [to the developer] with favorable interest rates," and withdrew its tax-exempt status.

Goshen, an unincorporated place in Tulare county, has 2,500 residents, and Self-Help Enterprises is building a 64-unit, low-income apartment complex that is expected to add enough people to lead to incorporation as a city. Clinica Sierra Vista has a $30 million budget and 500 employees to provide health care to poor residents of Kern county.

In Monterey county, where Hispanics were 47 percent of residents in the 2000 census, Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero was elected with 64 percent of the vote and five of the seven city council members are Hispanic. Latino candidates also won in the other four Salinas Valley cities: Gonzales, Greenfield, King City and Soledad, and Jose Velasquez won a county-wide race to be elected judge. Major issues in Monterey county for Latinos include affordable housing, education and immigrant rights.

US Politics. Americans went to the polls on November 5, 2002, and elected a Republican Congress. Voters in Massachusetts (Question 2) ended bilingual education, while Colorado voters, in rejecting Amendment 31, voted to continue bilingual education in public schools. The Massachusetts and Colorado measures were sponsored by Ron K. Unz, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who successfully led similar initiatives in California in 1998 and in Arizona in 2000.

Most analyses emphasized that the majority of votes were cast by what has been called the Invisible Giant of American politics: the white electorate. Non-Hispanic whites cast 81 percent of the votes in the 2000 election, and analysts estimated they cast an even higher percentage of votes in 2002, when turnout was down. About $1 billion was spent on political ads in 2002, including $16 million on political ads in Spanish.

There will be 22 Hispanics in the new US House of Representatives, up from 19, including two sisters from southern California and two brothers from southern Florida. Latinos were elected to state legislatures or offices in Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada and Oregon; there are 217 Latinos among the 6,500 state-level lawmakers. Most commentators agreed that immigration issues played little role in most election campaigns. For example, California Governor Gray Davis, who vetoed a bill that would have allowed unauthorized foreigners to obtain driver's licenses, won re-election.

Housing. Proposition 46, the Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2002, was approved 57-43 percent by voters in November 2002. It authorizes $2.1 billion in general obligation bonds for various housing programs, including $200 million for local governments and non-profit organizations to construct and rehabilitate housing for farm-workers. Preference is given to projects that also provide health services to workers and their families and those that serve migrant workers.

California's Employee Housing Act allows farmers to build up to six units of farm worker housing for up to 12 workers on land they own with simplified permitting (it must be considered by local planners as a single-family structure with a residential land-use designation). Very little such housing has been built, largely because it appears that each unit must be available for a family, and that a farmer who built units under the EHA's simplified procedures may not be able to make housing a condition of employment. There are proposals to allow farmers to build bunk houses rather than family homes, so that, for instance, more than six workers could be housed in the six units, and to allow farmers to require that workers housed on the farm be employees.

Two mobile home units for 12 workers can be put on farmer-owned land for about $250,000.

California has 23 state-funded migrant centers, and tenants who lived in them in 1996-97 are entitled to refunds because their rent was increased by the Office of Migrant Services without holding hearings as required by state law. In the summer of 1998 OMS held hearings on the rent increases, which then went into effect.

State law requires each city and county to plan for housing lower income residents- the state combines demographic and economic projections to provide each jurisdiction with its projected population by income group, and cities and counties are required to plan for that growth. However, there are no penalties if they do not, and three Ventura county cities- Camarillo, Fillmore, and Ventura- did not meet their December 2000 deadline to plan for housing.

Welfare. California had 475,000 welfare cases in December 2002, down from one million in 1995. About half of the cases include at least one worker, up from 20 percent in 1995. President Bush wants to raise the work requirement for adults receiving cash assistance from the current 30 hours a week to 40 hours a week.

On January 1, 2003, some 1,100 families in the San Joaquin Valley hit their five-year limits and lost their twice-monthly cash welfare checks. A third of these families were in Fresno county. In Fresno County, the number of people receiving cash assistance dropped from 99,630 in December 1997 to 66,259 in September 2002. On average, those who "time out" on welfare lose $131 a month-payments go from $679 to $548 a month. Cash payments continue for their children, although some counties make payments on behalf of children directly to landlords, etc. Poor families continue to receive Food Stamps, Medi-Cal, two years of subsidized child care, and other assistance.

Two-parent, immigrant and refugee families whose efforts to find good jobs are hindered by language barriers are disproportionately affected by time limits. In Fresno County, about half of the adults receiving cash assistance are employed, including 25 percent who work full-time. One earner in a family of four receiving cash and other assistance must earn at least $10.28 an hour to replace the value of the welfare package.

Some of those who reached the five-year limit applied for exemptions based on medical conditions, such as being a victim of domestic abuse or being the caretaker for an ill relative, which allows them to continue to receive cash assistance. Many of the exemptions that continue cash aid beyond five years are self-reported domestic abuse: "Each month a victim suffered domestic abuse potentially means an extra month of aid [beyond five years]…we want to bend over backward and take people at their word," according to the director of the cash aid program in Los Angeles County.

The fact that California continues cash aid to children after adults "time out" has prompted speculation that poor people may move to California, or that recipients in urban areas may move to the San Joaquin Valley, where living costs are lower. A third of the 1,050 people who applied for cash assistance in Fresno County in August 2002 came from out of state or another California county. Under the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS), welfare recipients are given 18 months of cash aid, followed by required community service in order to continue receiving cash aid.

The federal government has been providing a block grant of $17 billion a year to states since 1996, and President Bush proposed that the block grant remain $17 billion a year, reasoning that, with half as many recipients as in 1996, states can spend more per recipient. States counter that, to keep people off welfare, they need federal funds for supportive services, such as child care, health insurance and transportation.

Budget. California had an $8 billion surplus in 1999-2000, but faced a $24 billion deficit in 2002-03, representing 24 percent of the $99 billion budget. The state is required to plan for a balanced budget; most of the deficit for 2002-03 was erased with one-time adjustments and borrowing. About two-thirds of the state budget is spent on programs required by voter-approved initiatives, federal mandates and constitutional requirements for schools, health care, courts, prisons, public employee pensions and state government operations.

At the height of the economic boom in 2000-01 state income tax receipts from 44,000 taxpayers reporting incomes of $1 million or more, often from exercising stock options and taking capital gains on the sale of assets, reached $18 billion. These 44,000 taxpayers, representing 20 percent of California's general fund tax revenues paid 37 percent of California income taxes. California residents with incomes of $100,000 or more in 2000 represented 11 percent of taxpayers, but they received 55 percent of adjusted gross income and paid 80 percent of state income taxes.

The state budget increased by $20 billion during the late 1990s. As class sizes were reduced, state spending on K-12 education increased to $56 billion, or $7,000 per pupil a year. There was also a major expansion of health coverage for uninsured children, covering 624,000 children in 2001-02. The sharp fall in tax receipts after the stock market crash of 2001-02 highlighted the inequality in California: about 40 percent of the adjusted gross income in the state is earned by the top five percent of taxpayers.

About 20 percent or seven million California residents lack health insurance, even though California's Medi-Cal program provides health care for six million residents at a cost of $25 billion a year, an average of $4,200 per person each year. Fraud is rampant in immigrant communities in southern California, largely because the state is not sufficiently vigilant about the medical suppliers and providers on its lists.

One part of the budget that was not slated for cuts was the $5.2 billion prison system. California has 160,000 inmates in 33 prisons, up sharply from 109,000 in the early 1990s. The 26,000-member prison guards union, known as the
California Correctional Peace Officers Association, is a major campaign contributor that opposes early release and similar programs.

California is not alone in having budget woes. Most states are facing deficits of 10 to 20 percent for fiscal year July 2003-June 2004, a combined $70 to $80 billion, half in California. In the early 1990s, when many states faced deficits of five to 10 percent of their budgets, 40 of the 50 states raised taxes.

Education. In 1998, voters approved Proposition 227, which aimed to replace bilingual education with English immersion for non-English speaking K-12 students. California has six million K-12 students, including the 1.5 million who are not fluent in English, and the implementation of Proposition 227 has been very uneven. Prop 227 allowed parents of non-English speaking children to request waivers from English-immersion classes, thus allowing native language to continue.

About 152,000 English learners were being instructed in their native language in 2001-02, down from 410,000 in 1997-98, but the percentage of English learners in native language classes varied from one to two percent to almost 40 percent across California's 1,000 school districts. In the Lodi school district, for example, most of the 120 students in bilingual classes lived at the state-run Harney Lane Migrant Camp between March and November. Schools must offer bilingual classes if 20 or more students at a grade level have signed parental waivers from English-immersion classes.

K-12 schools have always been the major means for integrating the children of immigrants. Schools were financed with local taxes on the value of houses and other property, which meant that the funds available for schooling were greater in richer areas..

In 1972, after the Serrano decision, California equalized school funding, and Texas took a similar step in 1993, limiting the property tax rate to no more than $1.50 for every $100 of assessed property valuation, and requiring school districts that had more than $300,000 of assessed value for each enrolled student to turn over any taxes they collect on value above this amount to the state for redistribution, or donate the extra taxes directly to poorer school districts. These extra taxes have so far not equalized schooling outcomes.

Environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the federal Clean Air Act does not allow farmers to be exempted from clean air rules; California exempted farms in 1976. The San Joaquin Valley is among the three most polluted places in America. Agriculture contributes 25 percent of smog-forming reactive organic gases and 19 percent of the nitrogen oxides, another ingredient of smog.

Daniel Yi, "New Testing Adds Urgency to Bilingual Ed Battle," Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2003. Carla Rivera, "Recipients Scramble to Retain Welfare Benefits," Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2003.

Subscribe via Email

Click here to subscribe to Rural Migration News via email.