It probably comes as no surprise that the two most powerful words topping America’s “I can’t say that” list are “sex” and “death.” The solution? Adopt hundreds of euphemisms to avoid using the actual words.
If you surmised that government- and political-speak run a close third in the “say it some other way” department, you would be correct. You can draw up your own list, but my favorites include “enhanced interrogation,” “soft targets,” “misspoke,” “wide stance,” “tactical withdrawal,” and “revenue enhancement.”
Perhaps, given the quick and effective punishments doled out for telling the truth, we can’t blame governments for being so cautious. Most of us are brought up to use “good words” to avoid offending. (My mother used to call everything below the waist “down there.”)
George Carlin, the wisest comic truthteller since Will Rogers, once said, “The more syllables a euphemism has, the further divorced from reality it is.”
Clearly, the governor’s finance staff never downloaded Carlin to their i-Pods, because the January budget proposal projects significant savings from two very long-syllabled euphemisms: “government efficiencies” and “realignment.”
Government efficiencies is a phrase meaning “we are going to reduce state agencies, eliminate programs and furlough or fire some state workers.”
Realignment may be untangled as, “we don’t want it — you take it,” putting in motion the transfer of several specific and significant program responsibilities from the state to the counties, including incarceration of low-level non-sex offenders and oversight of certain parolees, as well as a number of health and human services responsibilities. The governor transferred responsibility for certain prisoners and parolees in order to comply with court orders on prison overcrowding. Of course he is describing the transfer as a kinder and gentler (and cheaper) move to local control.
Some of the efficiencies proposed in the January budget involve consolidations in the budgets for the Department of Health Care Services and the Department of Mental Health. The Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (familiarly called Mr. Mib) is eliminated and the programs currently administered there — Healthy Families (gone), Access for Infants and Mothers, County Children’s Health Initiative and the Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan — are transferred to the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS).
The Department of Mental Health is eliminated and, in its stead, there is a new Department of State Hospitals. The DHCS assumes responsibility for most of the Mental Health Services Act programs and other federal programs. The Department of Social Services will do licensing and quality improvement programs. The Department of Education administers early Mental Health Initiative grants. Other responsibilities are scattered among three or four other existing programs. This move is projected to save $193.1 million and eliminate 620 positions, helping to overcome a projected shortfall in the state hospital system of over $180 million. Others of the proposed changes include conversion to generic drugs, changes to the staffing mix of registered nurses and psychiatric technicians, increasing the bed rates charged to counties for civil commitments and reducing overtime.
The Department of Alcohol and Drug programs is also eliminated, as is the Rehabilitation Appeals Board.
Since environmental concerns get so little of the state budget’s General Fund anyway, the consolidations in that area actually save very little. Nonetheless, the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery goes (back) to CalEPA, reversing one of Arnold’s earlier “efficiencies.” In addition, the number of Regional Water Quality Control Boards is reduced and so are the numbers of members appointed to each board (from nine to seven).
The January budget also proposes dropping the total number of agencies in the Executive Branch from 12 to 10 and the elimination of 39 state entities and nine programs, including putting Consumer Affairs, Housing and Community Development, Fair Employment and Housing, Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Department of Business Oversight into one big entity, despite the fact that they all have vastly different responsibilities, procedures and missions.
The governor also continues to delay opening the Veterans Homes in Redding and Fresno, but bumps up the budget of the new Redistricting Commission to pay court costs generated by suits filed to undo the new districts.
The new uber-Office of Business and Economic Development (lovingly titled GO-Biz) gets a proposed $4.1 million to serve as the lead state entity for economic strategy and marketing of California on issues relating to business development, private sector investment, and economic growth. It would consolidate the operations of the Infrastructure Bank, the Film and Tourism Commissions, the Small Business Centers and the Small Business Guarantee Loan Program.
In 2011-12, the budget began a significant effort to transfer specific program responsibilities from the state to the counties, including incarceration and parole supervision of low-level offenders, substance abuse treatment programs, adult protective services, foster care, child welfare services, adoptions, child abuse prevention, mental health managed care, court security, and juvenile justice.
The January budget proposed a permanent funding structure for both base and growth funding for realignment, allocating specific portions of the sales tax and Vehicle License Fees to counties. However, the January budget pulls back quite a bit from the original realignment implementation schedules and concentrates, instead, on the public safety aspects. For the juvenile justice system, the budget proposes to end the intake of juveniles to state facilities by Jan. 1, 2013 and provides 10 million to the counties to begin this planning.
The governor also proposed new realignment efforts in the area of education, including a significant change to current funding formulas for aid to local schools in the form of a weighted pupil funding formula to be phased in over five years. Healthcare realignment is slowed significantly to wait for implementation of the federal act. All in all, these proposals are like a first offer in a contract negotiation, waiting for the response of the Legislature.

Sheila Kuehl served in the California Legislature for 14 years, both in the Assembly and State Senate. She is the founding director of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College. For more of her essays, visit

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