California Governor-elect Jerry Brown and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer held a budget forum this week in Los Angeles focused on education. Brown told the 200 or so educators and union representatives that he could not promise there won’t be any more cuts to education because he is sure there will be.
With the state facing a $28.1 billion deficit through 2012, and about another $20 billion a year through 2015-16, Brown said the state’s financial situation is worse than during the Great Depression.
How can he avoid cuts to education when K-12 education’s share of the state’s budget pie stands at roughly 40 percent?
The harsh reality is he can’t.
Nonetheless, there are those who do not see it that way, and believe no matter what the cost to other state paid programs and services, education must be spared.
California Teachers Association President David Sanchez called Lockyer a “Grinch,” when the state treasure said it is time to make cuts, deep cuts. Lockyer said he would cut 25 percent across the board.
Educators say no more can be cut from the state’s struggling school system. They say tax increases are what is needed.
Yes, Brown and the teachers can put a measure on the ballot to try again to change the vote requirement for raising taxes from two-thirds to fifty-five percent, but with the state’s unemployment numbers stubbornly staying above 12 percent, we don’t believe voters will approve it.
No one wants to see cuts to education, but the voters just aren’t in the mood to approve new taxes. The unfortunate reality is that many people simply can’t afford to pay more.
That’s not to say that there are some areas where targeted taxes may be a good idea, but we all know that the vanishing middle class, small business owners and homeowners usually shoulder the brunt of these measures.
So what’s the solution?
We believe it may be time to temporarily consolidate some school services and campuses where student populations have dropped, and to shift funds from future building projects to maintaining the current system. Those changes may require a vote, but it is an option that should at least be examined.
And it is time to stop spending every sent we have and borrowing to cover what we want, but can’t afford. For too long, state legislators have worried about making things look good today without any regard to the state’s long term well being.
So, in our view, state budget expenditures should be at least ten percent less than anticipated revenues, particularly since in California the rosy future budget scenario often conjured up by state legislators to, at least on paper, balance the budget, rarely actually materializes.
There is no doubt that the cuts will be painful, and the poor and most vulnerable will likely be hardest hit. But the blame should be placed where it really belongs, with everyone who thinks they are a sacred cow, and legislators who can only see as far as the next election.
A shorter version of this editorial was published today in all 11 EGP newspapers.