Mortgaging the future

To give the devil his due, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may succeed in submitting a balanced budget this year. That is no mean feat. But once again it’s a budget that mortgages the future by borrowing heavily. And it’s also one that makes dramatic cuts to local governments, colleges and universities and the public schools.

These are short-term hits, the governor insists. Convinced the state’s economy will improve in coming years and revenues will increase, he has promised to return budgets to something like normalcy beginning in 2006. He is, to use Sacramento Bee pundit Dan Walter’s pungent phrase, “betting on the come” that things will get better.

It may not work, the Legislature’s independent budget analyst, Elizabeth Hill, warned this week. The governor’s failure to propose lasting changes to balance the state’s books is likely to cause budget shortfalls for years to come beginning in 2006, she said.

As is well known, Schwarzenegger is loathe to raise taxes even a little. Indeed, his first act as governor was to reduce the vehicle license fee by $4 billion a year. So instead we will pay for the deficit in reduced local services, fewer university classes, crowded schools and higher university fees.

Butte County residents should be especially concerned because Chico State University has such a powerful economic presence here. The university is being hit to the tune of several million dollars, and students are being asked to pay more for their educations—up a proposed 14 percent next year alone. This means fewer classes, fewer teachers and fewer students, which causes a painful ripple effect throughout the community.

Beyond that, we should all be concerned about the faltering commitment to higher education. At a time when lower-level jobs are going overseas by the millions, the greatest advantage the United States has over other countries is its superb system of accessible higher education. That system nurtures research and innovation, and from them come the new, sophisticated jobs that will keep our economy healthy.

The easier it is for students to take advantage of this system, the stronger our country will be. Yet we increasingly are making it harder for them, closing doors instead of opening them. As with the governor’s budget, we will pay the price eventually.