Over the past few weeks education advocates have been getting some unexpected signals coming out of Sacramento. The word “No” is being bandied about in ways that could result in shocking cuts to education State-wide for the next school year.
Faced with yet another budget shortfall—this one to the tune of $28 billion over the next eighteen months—it’s common knowledge that the California legislature will have to make additional cuts to the state budget. A special legislative session called by Gov. Schwarzenegger to make immediate cuts a few days back passed the buck, making the funding crisis a top priority for incoming Gov. Jerry Brown. Education advocates knew this was likely, and the plan has been to focus lobbying and other resources on the next administration, hoping for a more favorable reception.
That hasn’t been the case. The incoming administration has apparently decided to immediately confront the State’s structural deficit head-on, rather than trying to patch shortfalls up with accounting tricks and overly optimistic financial projections, as has been the practice in recent years under Schwarzenegger. In keeping with his campaign promise of no new taxes without voter approval, Gov. Elect Brown will be calling upon voters — who have repeatedly made it clear that they don’t want taxes to be raised OR spending cuts to be made– to choose the path that they wish State government to take.
According to the LA Times:
Brown is holding talks with small groups of lawmakers and influential interest groups about how to put that decision before the public. He won’t discuss his plans publicly, but people involved in the private discussions expect him to propose a special election after enacting a dire austerity budget in the spring.
The choice presented to California voters would be short and sweet: approve new taxes or other revenue in a special election, or live with far fewer government services. To make sure that the electorate understands the implications here, Brown’s proposal will shape next year’s budget—along with the cuts that still have to take place to manage this year’s budget—with the assumption that additional revenues will not be forthcoming. And, my sources tell me, this budget will be enacted within the next 120 days, breaking a decade long string of late budget approvals by the legislature.
San Diego Unified School District officials have been scrambling to deal with the implications of this approach. Word around the School Board building is that the first round of budget cuts will involve pink slips for over 1500 employees being issued in March, including many teachers, some with up to ten years of experience. Programs that have survived past rounds of budget cutting will likely be terminated en masse so as to avoid charges of favoritism. Vice-principles, school nurses, counselors: Gone. School sports, gifted programs, magnet school bussing, tutoring: Gone. Schools will be closed, starting, most likely, with Mission Bay High School and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, both of which bus in the majority of their students. The displaced students from these and other programs will result in massive overcrowding, particularly among those schools south of Interstate Eight. Oh, and for the skeptics out there, yes, teacher pay and benefits will be slashed. They’ll have no choice. The money simply won’t be there.
The background here is that any way you total the numbers, far more Americans are out of work than two years ago. And the jobs that are available typically pay less than the ones they lost. This is having a brutal impact on state and local budgets as a result of reduced tax revenue. The real estate market is still floundering and the long-term impact on revenues for education may well be immense. The recessionary impact on budgets during the next eighteen months will be worse than it has been over the past three years. Tax revenue has not reached pre-recession levels, time has run out on the blue smoke and mirrors solutions of the Schwarzenegger era, and the federal support that often softened the blows is all but gone.
The six budget-related items that the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger placed on the ballot last year included extending temporary tax hikes as well as proposed limits on future state spending. Voters overwhelmingly rejected them. The thinking in the Brown administration is that by making the choices stark enough they may get a different result.
They should be careful about what they’re wishing for. The thinking in Sacramento assumes that the constituencies bearing the brunt of these looming cuts are going to be too busy watching American Idol to react. Locally, school officials aren’t so sure. Words like “strike” and “civil disobedience” have been whispered over at Normal Street in recent days, much to the consternation of the more liberal types on the school board.
It could be an interesting spring.