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Poor, Schools Brace For More Spending Cuts

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By Chris Levister 

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday released his plan that spares almost no one especially if voters reject a tax increase on the ballot this fall. Surrounded by a bevy of charts and graphs Brown whose nickname is Moonbeam handed Californians a dose of reality a revised plan to balance a $16 billion dollar deficit. Brown said the widening gap was caused by changing conditions on both the revenue and the cost sides of the ledger: "Tax receipts are coming in lower than expected. And the federal government and the courts have blocked us from making billions in necessary budget reductions. The result is that we are now facing a $16 billion hole, not the $9 billion we thought in January."

The Governor laid out $8 billion in proposed cuts to welfare and childcare, college financial aid, healthcare for the poor and a 5 percent cut to state workers. He then framed the stakes surrounding a tax initiative he’s placing on the November ballot. If it passes the sales tax would go up a quarter cent and Californians who earn more than $250.000 a year would pay higher income taxes, otherwise another 6 billion dollars in budget cuts.

“We have more spending obligations than we have revenue. I bumped up the revenue on condition that people say yes in November,” said Brown. “If the vote is no then you can expect trigger cuts across the board.”

The shortfall is a result of lower-than-projected tax receipts, an increase in school money under a voter-approved funding formula and opposition to cuts from the federal government, courts and Democratic state lawmakers. "I'm linking these serious budget reductions … with a plea to the voters: Please increase taxes temporarily," Brown said at a morning news conference to announce his revised plan for the budget year that begins July 1.

To help close the gap, Brown is grabbing any spare change available to the government — from nearly $300 million that the state received as part of the national settlement on mortgage wrongdoing to $1.4 billion in affordable housing funds surrendered by local redevelopment agencies in January.

Brown, who promised voters while campaigning in 2010 that he would end years of budget trickery in Sacramento, acknowledged that he was relying on "one-time revenues to handle one-time problems."

He added: "This is the best that I could do."

The revised spending plan would increase reductions in Medi-Cal, the state's healthcare program for the poor, to $1.2 billion. It would save $400 million by shifting government offices to a four-day week, lowering state worker pay by reducing weekly work hours from 40 to 38 – which would require negotiations with state worker unions.

Brown would largely maintain the $1.2-billion reductions in welfare and childcare funds that he proposed in January. Home care for the elderly and disabled is also on the chopping block, with a proposed $225 million cut that would include 7% sliced from aides' hours.

In total, state spending would increase under Brown's plan by 5.6% to $91.4 billion. The proposal assumes that total revenue, mostly from income taxes, would grow 10.2% during the next fiscal year to $95.7 billion.

Brown's plan is built around the expectation that voters will approve higher taxes in November. Without those levies, he said Monday, public schools and community colleges would be sliced by $5.5 billion, and the University of California and California State University systems would be cut by $250 million each. Other popular programs, like lifeguards at state beaches, would also get the ax, for a total of nearly $6.1 billion in extra cuts.

University officials unsuccessfully pleaded with Brown to increase their funding to help avoid tuition increases or enrollment cuts; without more funding, UC students could end up paying 6% more, and Cal State students, who already are set to pay a 9% hike for next fall, will face more limits on enrollment next spring. Both systems warn of much more severe measures if voters reject the proposed November tax measures.

The prospect of even deeper cuts to schools brought several teachers to the steps of Riverside City Hall.

“Where does it end. It’s shameful,” said retired teacher Beverly Shields. Shields, who is 53 says she left the classroom last year because of the state’s deteriorating support for public education.

“Our schools have become the handy battleground in the war over which values our society will embrace as a standard or whether we will hold to any values or standards at all.”

James Ellis, a health educator says he plans to retire this year – out of frustration. “Lord knows, I need the work. But I won’t stand back and be used as a political football,” said Ellis. “Frankly I think more and more teachers will throw their hands up and say – I’m done.”

Brown warned that the deficit could grow significantly if his proposed ballot measure to raise the state sales tax and income levies on high earners fails. He says that would trigger severe cuts in public education that would be the equivalent of lopping three weeks off the school year.

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