Back From Vacation, Brown Faces State Budget

Brown returns to state capital for budget briefing.

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    Governor-elect Jerry Brown returned to Sacramento on Tuesday after a brief post-election vacation to learn more about the $25.4 billion budget deficit facing him when he takes office in January.

    Brown met with officials from the state Department of Finance who oversee the education budget, which accounts for about 55 percent of spending from the state's general fund.

    The incoming Democratic governor said it was time for everyone who has a stake in government to "belly up to the bar" and give him their ideas for how to solve the budget gap.

    "It's really a challenge for all people of California as to how we manage what's in front of us," Brown said during a break of a three-hour budget briefing. "And what's in front of us is this enormous, unprecedented gap between the money coming in and the money committed to go out."

    Brown asked state budget officials whether any other state has achieved savings in education that California could follow and about how other state universities are funded. He also inquired whether costs at California universities were similar at universities of similar prestige.

    Jeannie Oropeza, program budget manager for the Department of Finance, told Brown she would look at other states. She noted that Texas universities, for example, have not suffered similar funding constraints because they receive funding from the oil industry.

    Brown declined to comment about a proposed 8 percent fee hike pending before the University of California's Board of Regents.

    He said the special session called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to deal with the immediate $6.1 billion shortfall in the current year's budget was a great opportunity to begin addressing the state's finances. The rest of the $25.4 billion budget is projected for the fiscal year that will begin in July.

    "We have one governor at a time, and I think its important each one, while they are at their post, do everything they can to deal with the state's problems," Brown said.

    He also declined to offer any suggestions for closing the immediate $6.1 billion shortfall, saying he would be ready to discuss his ideas when he takes office Jan. 3.

    Schwarzenegger's special session is scheduled to start when the new Legislature is sworn in on Dec. 6. It was unclear how cooperative the Democrat-controlled Legislature will be with the outgoing Republican governor.

    Legislative leaders already have threatened to wait and work with Brown if they don't like what Schwarzenegger has to offer.

    Earlier in the day, Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear told reporters the governor hoped to close the $6.1 billion deficit before he leaves office. He said the governor would present his plan, along with his own estimate of the budget gap, on Dec. 6.

    "I think it would be tremendously irresponsible to ignore the shortfall," McLear said.