If supporters of new veterans homes in Redding and Fresno were hoping that Gov. Jerry Brown would ride to the rescue, they would be sorely disappointed.
Because of tight state budgets, veterans aren't scheduled to actually move in until early next year even though construction will be complete way before then. The 150-bed, $88 million home in Redding is almost finished, and the 300-bed, $159 million home Fresno is scheduled to be done in April.
Under the spending plan that the governor released last week, there would be a further delay. The homes wouldn't open for yet another year -- until January 2014. When education and safety net programs are being slashed, the Brown administration is saying that there isn't the money to hire staff and ramp up operations so the homes can be occupied. Majority Democrats in the Legislature have blamed Republicans for steadfastly refusing to consider higher taxes to pay for veterans programs and all sorts of other state programs.
Instead, the Brown administration plans to hire skeletal staff and keep the brand-new facilities well-maintained while they sit empty. For the 2012-13 fiscal year that starts July 1, it has budgeted $1.4 million for the Redding home and $1.9 million for the Fresno home. That's about $280,000 a month combined for the two homes.
As I said in a California Forum piece in November about the situation, "Even by state government standards, this seems just crazy."
You can debate the wisdom of opening relatively expensive new veterans homes, though there's definitely a need. But if you're going to spend the big bucks to build them -- while the feds paid 65 percent of the construction costs, the state has spent $103 million -- having them sit vacant doesn't seem like a great solution.
Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, a Republican who represents Redding, ripped Brown for the decision.
"This is just one of a long list of bad decisions Brown has made that have hurt veterans since he's been in the office," Nielsen said in a statement. "He's reneging on a commitment he's made to those who have fought hard, sacrificing their lives even, for our country."
His office estimates that it would require about $11.6 million for the Redding home and $14.5 million for the Fresno home in the 2012-13 budget to open them a year from now.
Boosters of the Redding and Fresno homes are trying to organize a meeting with veterans and a bipartisan group of legislators to try to get more money in the budget.
Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, a Fresno Republican, says she's "disgusted" by what she calls a "crippling" budget cut and "a continuing betrayal" of veterans.
Honoring our veterans by fulfilling our state's obligations should be one of our highest budget priorities," she said in a statement. "I hope all of my Central Valley colleagues join me in rejecting this disrespectful and unacceptable cut to veterans funding."