Gov. Jerry Brown's budget plan is a work in progress that provides a clear-eyed view of California's financial mess. It offers significant spending cuts and some major structural reforms, but not enough of the latter.
As Brown sees it, California's general fund, the portion of the budget filled with income, sales and corporate taxes, will be $84.6 billion for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, basically flat. Spending from earmarked taxes, fees and bonds will push overall state spending to $127 billion.
To close a $25.4 billion deficit, Brown is proposing $12.5 billion in cuts, and is seeking legislative approval for a June ballot measure asking voters to extend $9 billion in annual taxes due to expire at the end of June.
He offers other proposals that would bring the total from taxes to $12 billion, and offers a few relatively modest one-time fixes. The implication is clear. If voters reject the taxes, the governor said, much more severe cuts would have to be made.
Brown and Democratic supporters face a double hurdle on the tax maneuver: getting the extension on the ballot, then persuading voters to support it. Brown had barely finished presenting his proposal Monday when Republicans announced that none would vote for it. The new year did not usher in warm bipartisan feelings.
Perhaps Brown can bring some Republicans to the table. If they refuse, Brown and Democratic leaders seem to be leaving the door open for an attempt to get the tax extension on the ballot through a majority vote. That would trigger a showdown in the courts.
Brown's budget includes several necessary cuts and some that are ill-considered. He proposes protecting spending on K-12 public schools, but would whack $500 million each from the University of California and the California State University systems, and $400 million from the California community colleges. K-12 funding is a political hot potato, but it's time we expect more efficiency in schools, from teachers and administrators to facilities operations.
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