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Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposed Budget Cuts Zero In on Medi-Cal, Higher Education

But he leaves K-12 schools and public safety off the chopping block, saying they've already endured their share of fiscal hits

Decrying 10 years of “budget gimmicks and tricks,” newly elected California Gov. Jerry Brown talked with the media Monday about the cuts he’s proposing to help mend the state’s hemorrhaging budget.

The state is facing a budget deficit of $25.4 billion, and Brown’s proposals suggest the largest cuts coming from Medi-Cal, with $1.7 billion in reductions, $1.5 billion in welfare and $500 million each in cuts from University of California and California State University systems.

Brown’s proposals issued Monday added up to $12.5 billion in cuts to be put in place over the next 18 months.

“It’s better to take our medicine now and get our state on balanced footing,” he said.

Brown said that K-12 education and public safety were left out of the cuts because they’ve already endured the brunt of cuts. But colleges and universities are a different story.

In addition to the $1 billion UC and CSU cuts, $400 million in reductions for community colleges are on the table, enabled by census reforms. Community college fees will increase from $26 to $36 per unit, still the lowest in the country, Brown said, and half of the students will get some kind of scholarship assistance.

Redevelopment agencies are also on the chopping block, and going forward, Brown said the state will be looking at ways to eliminate back-filling the property taxes involved.

“We’re spending money at the local level that the state doesn’t have,” he said.

In addition to the deep cuts, the governor also proposed extending taxes that are in place for the next five years, a feat that would have to be approved by the Legislature to end up on the ballot, where it would have to be approved by voters. Brown said the current higher taxes on sales, vehicles and income would be extended for five years, but that they would have sunset without legislative action.

“This is a starting point for responsible budget planning,” freshman Assemblyman Das Williams said. “This is the first time in 16 years that I have seen real long-range budget planning. I think it is appropriate to turn over some programs that could be more efficiently run at the local level, but we can’t saddle local governments with the burden of providing vital services without the means to pay for them.”

“There are portions of this budget that I cringe at, but I know that if we do not move forward with a balanced solution, the alternative will be worse for our economy and our children.

“It is important that we support the tax extensions the governor proposes to place before the voters if we are to give local governments the ability to cover the new responsibilities and protect K-12 education from deep and harmful cuts. To make up for the cuts that are proposed in this plan to higher education, I plan to introduce legislation for a dedicated funding source.”

In May 2009, Proposition 1A failed 65.9 percent statewide and 64.9 percent in Santa Barbara County, and would have increased the state’s rainy day fund, which would have come from increases in sales and use taxes, vehicle license fees and personal income tax.

Reporters pressed Brown on Monday on what he would do if the Legislature doesn’t approve the tax extensions. He said convincing Republicans in the Legislature to approve extending taxes would be a challenge, but he said he’s trying to forge consensus in order to put the tax items on the ballot as soon as possible. 

“I think people will make a judgment. It’s a divisive issue,” he said, adding that it will be up to leaders to make the case, and “whatever (voters) say, we’ll live with that.”

“The difficulty is, all across America, people have been living on debt,” he added. “We’re going to have to live in a more conservative fashion.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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