Bleak Budget Sets Stage For Education Funding Fight

Gov. Brown's proposal protects schools, but only to a point

It's just what we need, as the weather heats up in Sacramento: the prospect of another heated battle, as Gov. Jerry Brown outlines the latest bleak budget numbers.

Facing an unexpectedly high $16 billion deficit, Brown will seek to cut the usual suspects, health and welfare programs.

And he'll seek to negotiate pay cuts with state workers. But there's a notable exception this year.

Under terms of Prop 98, the state's constitutional guarantee for school spending, schools are actually looking at a budgetary increase. But that respite may be fleeting.

The governor's budget plan will include a "doomsday scenario" which outlines a series of automatic spending cuts...if California voters reject his plea to approve a package of temporary tax increases in November.

Yes, education would be part of those trigger cuts.

Those cuts would be so severe that the teachers union in one of the largest districts in the state, San Juan Unified, is circulating a letter describing the "bleak financial picture" that emerges.

The letter, obtained by Prop Zero, says voter rejection of the governor's tax plan "would likely bring a proposal from the state to shorten the school year by 10 to 15 days.

Although this is a negotiable issue, given the circumstances it will be difficult to avoid." Election-year politics will play a big part in this budget drama.

Brown, having learned last year that he could not strike a tax deal within the legislature, wants to bypass the Capitol this year. His tax initiative would raise the sales tax for four years, and income tax rates for high-income Californians for seven years.

The plan, if passed, would raise somewhere around $7 billion in its first year. And if it fails? A new round of schools, universities, and public safety programs. Brown's challenge is to answer skeptics who say he's engaging in scare tactics. His strategy is to tell voters, if they're unhappy with a tax increase, they'll be more unhappy with cuts to programs they care about.

Public schools would be Exhibit A.

Author Kevin Riggs is an Emmy-winning former TV journalist in Sacramento. He is currently Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

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