Health, Social Services and Higher Ed Hit Hardest in Proposed State Budget

Photo by Richie Duchon

After more than one month of preparing the state for harsh budget cuts, Gov. Jerry Brown announced the details of his proposed budget Monday morning. In a tough, unapologetic voice, the governor announced $12.5 billion in spending cuts and $12 billion in revenue through tax extensions that would go before voters in a special election.

"It's better to take our medicine now and get the state on balanced footing," Brown said of the cuts during his announcement. "These cuts will be painful, requiring sacrifice from every sector of the state, but we have no choice."

The governor is tasked with trying to close an 18-month budget deficit estimated at $25.4 billion, which he described as the result of 10 years of "budget gimmicks and tricks." Brown said a major emphasis of his budget is to restore spending choices and responsibility to local governments and schools.

Almost half of Brown's plan to close the state's budget deficit relies on voters approving a 5-year extension of sales and income taxes and vehicle license fees that are set to expire. The choice would go before voters in June, pending approval by the legislature.

Health, social services and higher education will suffer the largest spending cuts. Brown proposed slashing Medi-Cal by $1.7 billion; the state's Welfare-to-Work program will have to absorb a major blow in the form of $1.5 billion in cuts to CalWORKS; and the Department of Developmental Services, which funds and operates services for individuals with developmental disabilities, will have to figure out how to go forward with a $750 million cut to its budget.

Brown, whose father Gov. Edmund Gerald "Pat" Brown Sr oversaw the enactment of the California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960, is calling for $1 billion in spending cuts to higher education — $500 million each to the University of California and California State University systems.

The leaders of the UC, CSU and Community Colleges released a joint statement Monday afternoon protesting the cuts:

Given the vast demographic shifts underway in California, now is not the time to shrink public higher education, but to grow it. The road to recovery from this recession and prosperity far beyond it runs straight through our many campuses. These universities are the economic engines of California.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said in a separate statement that 350,000 students could be turned away from community colleges if the budget becomes law.

UC President Mark Udolf released his own open letter to California, in which he called the release of the budget "a sad day for California." Udolf went on to highlight the decade's-long state disinvestment in higher education as a per-student measure:

All of this comes at a time when more California students than ever are applying to attend a University of California campus. My hope is that going forward, Californians will begin to ponder the implications of declining state support for their university. The proposed budget will reduce taxpayer investment by an additional 16.4 percent; in just 20 years state support, as measured on a per-student basis and adjusted for inflation, will have declined by 57 percent. Rising tuition and fees have made up only half of this shortfall. The cost of producing a credit hour actually has decreased; it's the students' co-pay, if you will, that has risen.

Some state employees with pending contracts will take an eight to 10 percent cut in take-home pay to the tune of $350 million.

Asked by a reporter at a press conference if Brown had negotiated his proposed budget with state legislators, Brown said he had consulted with some legislators but was not counting on their full support until they had more time to look at the details.

Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway rejected the governor's proposed tax extension. In a statement she said, "There are not votes in the Assembly Republican Caucus to place the same tax increases that voters overwhelmingly rejected less than two years ago back on the ballot."

Across the aisle, Assembly Speaker John Perez response was positive but measured. He called the budget the "starting point of a responsible fiscal plan."

"I look forward to working with the Governor to approve a budget that will begin to eliminate our structural deficit and protect California jobs," Perez said in a press release.

In an op-ed in Monday's L.A. Times, Los Angeles County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina remained skeptical of the Governor's proposed realignment of spending decisions and programs to local governement.

"While realignment sounds great in theory, the devil is in the details. If the state proposes to save itself money by shifting both program responsibilities and the funding for them to local governments, where will the savings be?" the supervisors wrote.

Brown tried to emphasize that his budget spares K-12 education. "Schools have borne the brunt of spending reductions in recent years, so this budget maintains funding at the same level as the current year," he said.

However, as noted by KQED, his budget projects $2.3 billion less in funding because of the economy, and $500 million will be cut each from the University of California and California State University.

Think you might have some good ideas about how to resolve the state's budget crisis? Give the L.A. Times Budget Balancer at try.

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