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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 6:04 am | Fair 46º


Brown Pushes for Tax Extensions, Deep Cuts to Knock Down California’s ‘Wall of Debt’

Governor's revised budget would provide more funding for education but eliminate 5,550 state worker positions and dissolve a slew of state boards and departments

Gov. Jerry Brown revealed his revised budget proposal Monday that includes cutting spending to one of the lowest points in four decades despite higher revenue estimates.

He outlined in a webcast his plan for billions of dollars in cuts as a way to chip away at the state’s “wall of debt,” but he failed to speculate on what the financial picture would be if the tax extensions don’t get approved by either the Legislature or voters.

Instead, he defended his “balanced” and “honest” budget while condemning “gimmicks” used in the past.

“I’ve given you the blueprint, and now the other architects will screw it up,” Brown said.

There is an estimated $6.6 billion revenue gain, which would send $1.6 billion more to K-12 and community college education and reimburse the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Department of Mental Health so they can pay their bills accumulated while being underfunded in past years, Brown said.

With a $10.8 billion structural deficit, Brown’s plan calls for reducing state government, protecting education and public safety by extending taxes, realigning some responsibilities to local governments, paying off debt and providing business incentives.

His proposal suggests eliminating 5,500 state worker positions, making state employees pay more into retirement, closing up to 70 state parks and requiring Medi-Cal participants to pay a larger share of the costs. Nonessential state properties such as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would be sold.

Forty-three state commissions, boards and departments would be dissolved, including the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, which would have their responsibilities transferred to local authorities. A Department of State Hospitals would form to handle state issues related to those two departments.

The plan also includes the elimination of redevelopment agencies, which would impact capital improvement funding for the South Coast. Local RDAs were among the hundreds that had to pay into the $350 million pot last week after a judge ruled that the state’s raids on local funds were legal. Proposition 22, passed in November, prohibits future raids by the state, but Brown is continuing his fight to eliminate RDAs altogether.

Some money would be put back into K-12 education, but local districts are cutting millions of dollars and foresee cutting more if the tax extensions fail. The Santa Barbara School District has a $10 million deficit going into 2011-12 and proposes balancing the budget with furloughs, shortening the school year — but not instructional time — and getting a payout from unifying its two districts, which is expected to be approved this month.

Diminished higher education funding is expected to send tuition rates skyrocketing — even double them, Brown has said — for the California State University and University of California systems.

His “realignment” plan includes sending more inmates to their home counties, and local law enforcement agencies have worried about getting funding to match the mandate. Brown addressed that issue Monday, saying the state has to stop deferring payments to local agencies, but the impacts of moving more corrections and mental health services to the local level remain unclear.

Brown said past budgets included one-time “gimmicks” that built up obligations that now need to be paid back.

To that end, his proposal includes a plan to chip away at the “wall of debt” and pay it down to $6 billion by 2014 — otherwise, the $35 billion or so could balloon up in the next few years, he said.

He said he wants California to be a good example for Washington, D.C., with political parties willing to negotiate, taking action on the debt problem and making the cuts necessary to run a reasonable, efficient government.

Brown is continuing to push hard to extend the income, sales and vehicle tax rates, though the May revise doesn’t propose extending the income tax surcharge from 2010 to 2011. He said he wants legislators to approve the extensions now and have voters weigh in during an election later.

Reporters repeatedly asked Brown about the probability of getting the bipartisan support needed for that vote, when he wasn’t even able to get enough votes to put the matter on the ballot, and Brown appeared frustrated, saying his proposal provides a “road plan to success.”

He said he is talking to “more than four, less than 10” Republicans who are “plausible votes” to pass the extensions.

For the first time, lawmakers will have a financial incentive to pass a budget on time — their pay gets docked for each day it’s late. Last year, it was passed 100 days late.

Meanwhile, county, city and local districts are required to adopt a budget by June 30 and often meet their deadlines without knowing what level of state or federal funding can be expected for the next year.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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