The California Legislature did not adopt a state budget by the June 15 constitutional deadline. It seldom does.
However, that did not stop the clock ticking on what is expected to be the most draconian budget cuts and layoff ever within the University of California Cooperative Extension and the UC Agricultural Experiment Station.
Those two entities were facing 30 percent budget cuts when W.R. Gomes, vice president, agriculture and natural resources, testified before the California Senate Agriculture and Water Resources Committee that budget reductions of that magnitude would be devastating, and the devastation has begun. Even thought there is no new state budget that addresses what could be a $38 billion income a year from now, the cuts have started.
Gomes may not know what the final budget may be, but he does know that Cooperative Extension and ag experiment stations are going in the hole to the tune of $1 million per month. The state has a current deficit of almost $10 billion.
He has already frozen all open positions in Cooperative Extension for a year; begun to shut down “small” programs and frozen two open administrative positions in his office. That is just the beginning.
When the budget is approved by the legislator, the action will be retroactive, and Gomes is making changes now in anticipation of that.
Early retirement incentives for veteran farm advisors and specialists are not now an option.
Gomes did not rule it out, but he was not optimistic that it would be available as it was a decade ago when Cooperative Extension went through drastic budget cuts.
The dilemma is that if early retirement is offered to Cooperative Extension, it would have to be offered to all UC faculty. However, UC enrollment continues to climb and laying off professors to met budget shortfalls is not as attractive on campuses as it is in Extension and ag research stations.
Although most don't want to retire, many veteran farm advisors are willing to take early retirement to save the jobs of a host of new, recently hired farm advisors.
Gomes also noted that the UC retirement system has problems of its own from losses in the stock market and may not be able to fund massive retirements.
Gomes has said the inevitable personnel layoffs will not be based on seniority, but on programs.
“What we are trying to determine is which programs are absolutely essential and provide the greatest service to California that are not done by someone else or not handled by the private sector,” he said.
The surviving programs will become the “core” of UC Cooperative Extension for the next four to five years and probably beyond that.
However, that core will be small based on what Gomes told the Senate committee.
“There is no one segment of Cooperative Extension which can solve the problem” of a 30 percent budget cut.
“If we were to lay off all Cooperative Extension advisors in the counties, it would not solve the budget shortfall. If we were to lay off all Cooperative Extension specialists it would not solve the shortfall.
“If we were to close all research and Extension centers, and eliminate all statewide special programs and projects, it would not meet the budget shortfall,” according to Gomes.
UC cooperative Extension is made up of 263 advisors and 170 specialists.
All on table
Reductions of the magnitude proposed in the governor's budget forces Gomes to “put everything on the table,” including closure of Cooperative Extension county offices, downsizing or eliminating state programs such as 4-H and Integrated Pest Management.
“The (proposed) cuts will seriously restrict our ability to deliver the new technologies, cutting-edge research and practical information that growers, consumers and others rely on to keep California competitive in world markets, ensure a safe and security food supply, improve environmental quality, contribute to family values and protect public health and safety,” Gomes testified.
With a deficit equaling a third of the state budget, there is no segment of state, county and local government expected to escape budget cuts unscathed. Gomes is asking that UC Cooperative Extension cuts be less draconian than 30 percent.
The state budget for Extension goes almost exclusively for salaries. Office space, vehicles office staff and other support is provided by individual counties.
Gomes will not be surprised to find some counties severely curtailing that support or eliminating it altogether.
“Where counties are cutting back, we expect to be a part of that cutback,” Gomes said. “Some counties have suggested Cooperative Extension be zeroed out in budgets. Unfortunately, that will make my job easier when it comes to cutting programs and personnel,” he added.
Cooperative Extension has received strong support from various commodity groups. Gomes described it as “remarkable.” Gomes added that there also has been considerable support from within the California legislature.
However, the most tenacious support for Cooperative Extension has come from the ranks of the 144,000 urban and rural 4-H youths. It has been so resolute that some legislators have asked UC to get the young people to scale back their lobbying efforts.
It is not unlike the outcry from Future Farmers of America members who two years ago created a firestorm of protest when Gov. Gray Davis proposed cutting FFA from the high schools. He rescinded that decision after lobbying by the young FFA members.