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Charity case: state budget cuts threaten to debilitate--or worse, shut down--local LGBT organizations.

NOBODY UNDERSTANDS the current fiscal crisis and its effect on state budgets better than John Laird. Until November 20081 Laird was a member of the California state assembly, where he chaired the budget committee. He also chaired the state's LGBT caucus, fiercely defending the various hard-won services funded by the state, such as support and counseling services for LGBT seniors and youths.

But those services could be cut, given the state's budget crisis. California, once facing a fiscal 2009 deficit of $15 billion, now projects a staggering $42 billion shortfall through mid 2010. When Laird spoke to The Advocate in late fall, he was headed to Sacramento to chair the state's first hearing about how it would bridge that gap. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was proposing an equal mix of cuts and new taxes, but hard-line Republicans opposed any new taxes. "And if they don't bend, it will require draconian cuts across the budget, and nothing would be safe." Laird says. "Everything we've done for LGBT services will be on the table."

California's budget woes are extreme, but nonetheless emblematic of similar crises across the nation. Massachusetts, for example, faces a 2009 budget deficit of $3.5 billion, while Illinois is projecting a $4 billion shortfall. As states struggle to balance their budgets, many local organizations fear they may face painful and in some cases life-threatening cuts.

The situation is particularly acute for smaller organizations, which typically lack the diversified funding streams of their larger peers. Grace Sterling Stowell, for instance, executive director of the Boston Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth, is watching the legislature's budgeting process very carefully, since more than 70% of BAGLY's $750,000 annual budget comes from the state of Massachusetts.

"We're definitely worried," she says. State funding is "so much more significant than all our other sources of funding. If even some of that were to go away, it would be a big blow. If it all went away, there would be no way for us to replace that money." Whereas larger organizations might have the luxury of reallocating funds, or cutting back on expenses, BAGLY can't count on that, Stowell says. "We can't keep cutting back without seriously compromising our work. We're already at the bone."

In California, which has achieved nearly universal access to care and treatment for people with HIV or AIDS, including complete coverage for AIDS treatment drugs for anyone who is economically eligible, there are serious doubts as to whether the state will stay the progressive course. "Both the previous and current administrations have been great friends of people living with HIV/ AIDS," says Phil Curtis, director of government affairs for AIDS Project Los Angeles. "But the financial meltdown in the system is affecting everyone, and the state is facing even greater budget deficits, so there will be more cuts."

The California crisis is exacerbated by the state's current political dynamic. The Democrats, who control the state legislature, want to protect social services, but the Republicans don't want to raise taxes. The California constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote to authorize revenue increases, and Republicans currently have enough votes to block any such efforts.

The resulting stalemate has crippled the state's government and left LGBT-related organizations hanging. Curtis says he's concerned about the fallout, but he's confident that programs like the AIDS Drug Assistance Program will survive intact. "Giving credit where it's due to the legislature and the governor, the most important programs, like ADAP, remain fully funded," he says. "Our number 1 priority is preserving universal access to drugs. We don't want to establish waiting lists and co-pays for people with AIDS, and so far we haven't had to."

Many LGBT people are also looking to the president to help mitigate local budgetary woes. "Everybody anticipates that there will probably be at least adequate appropriations from the Obama administration," Curtis says. "We can't know for sure, but at least the political will will be there."

Curtis is part of a consortium of HIV/ AIDS groups pushing for a national AIDS strategy and a $100 million increase in funding under the Ryan White Care Act of 1990. "That's really budget dust, but who the hell knows what's going to happen," he says. "At this point, the fiscal environment is dicey on all fronts."
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Article Details
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Author:Caggiano, Christopher
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Apr 1, 2009
Words:715
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