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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 9:53 am | Fair 54º


Bill Cirone: We’re All About to Pay for State Budget Gaps

California's irresponsible credit-card financing finally is catching up with us.

For several years I have been railing against the “smoke and mirrors” that legislators and the governor have used to balance California’s budget, and the credit-card financing that has made it possible. Sadly, this is the year it has all come home to roost.

Bill Cirone

To fully understand the nature of the state’s budget disaster it helps to look at the data developed by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which provides a straightforward analysis of California’s revenues and expenditures, without spin or political agenda.

In November 2007, the legislative analyst’s best estimate was for state revenues to rise steadily through 2013. By November 2008, the estimate of state revenues showed a sharp fall in revenue through next year, with revenues beginning to rise slowly but not yet catching up to 2007-08 levels even by 2013.

This discrepancy helps explain our dire situation. State revenues — from income tax, sales tax and all the fees that are levied — have been decimated. At the same time, expenditures have risen as costs continue to rise. This deficit between income and outgo was estimated to reach more than a staggering $40 billion over the next 18 months.

What’s so daunting is that every measure the state had to take to close the gap — cutting positions, cutting programs, raising revenues — will have a negative impact on the economy. It’s a true Catch-22. It is possible that the federal stimulus money will help offset some of the negative forces California took to balance its budget during these recent negotiations. Time will tell.

Schools find themselves in a position of reacting to a situation over which they have no control. Unlike private enterprise — which can raise prices for its goods or services — or government entities, which can raise taxes, schools have zero control over their revenues. None. They receive only what their local tax base and the state and federal governments provide, along with any private fund-raising done on their behalf.

There are other deflating ironies. As Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year Luke Laurie recently said, “While the housing market soared, and the stock market was riding high, schools saw little or no economic benefit. Teachers weren’t collecting massive bonuses or redecorating their offices (we don’t have offices). In fact, many schools throughout this period were dealing with overwhelming class sizes, crumbling infrastructure, and ongoing struggles to provide basic services. Teachers were lucky to get cost-of-living adjustments, and were even luckier if they managed to keep some health care. Many of us saw real wages fall.”

He explained that while education didn’t benefit from the economic excesses of the last few years, when everything came crashing down, the funding for schools went with it and school children must now suffer disproportionately. So we face the state budget cuts with very real anxiety about the future of our schools and the education of our children.

There is always hope. With skilled and determined leadership in business and government, steps can be taken to help solve the problem. As President Obama said in his inaugural speech, “The question we ask is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”

Now is not the time for ideology, it is the time for action. We remain optimistic. We just need to understand that right now the picture is not a pretty one for California or its schools.

Click here for a related article.

Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

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