Another severe state budget

Gov. Brown wants us to feel the pain—and then vote to raise taxes

It’s too early to know exactly what the final state budget is going to look like, but the initial proposal Gov. Jerry Brown offered last week is anything but encouraging. Because Republicans in the Legislature used the two-thirds rule to block his effort to put a temporary tax measure on the ballot, and because revenues have been lower than expected, the state is again looking at a huge budget deficit, $9.2 billion over the next 18 months, according to a Department of Finance estimate.

That gives Brown few choices but to continue to cut spending. His budget proposes to slash welfare, Medi-Cal and home-based care for the disabled as soon as possible, and threatens further drastic reductions in the UC and CSU systems and a huge reduction to K-12 education—the equivalent of three weeks of classes—if voters reject a proposed initiative increasing the sales tax and income tax in November.

“This is not nice stuff, but that’s what it takes to balance the budget,” Brown told reporters at the Capitol.

He’s being realistic. Because of the recession, revenues have declined precipitously, and so far he’s had no success in convincing ideologically driven Republican lawmakers to find new sources of revenue. Brown believes voters will approve new taxes only when they believe sufficient cuts have been made to warrant them.

He’s unlikely to get what he seeks, at least right away. Democrats in the Legislature hold out hope the financial picture will improve by June, making such deep cuts unnecessary. But December revenues were down, and the prognosis is guarded, at best.

The saddest thing about all this is that it’s exacerbating the recession and driving more and more people into deeper poverty. It will cost us far more in the long run—in medical costs, reduced educational success, greater unemployment—than raising taxes would.