Frayed Budget Tightrope

With Republicans and Democrats going in two different directions, the state is on a collision course with disaster.

Democratic Governor Jerry Brown can't get a break when it comes to the state budget.

Last year Brown spent an inordinate amount of energy wooing legislative Republicans for support of a ballot proposal to temporarily raise state taxes.

They resisted his entreaty and a jilted Brown had to delay his increased revenue plan for a year. Had the issue been placed on the ballot and passed by the voters, the state would have received about $5 billion in badly needed revenue for the rest of the current year.

Instead we have to wait until November--half way into the next fiscal year--for the voters to decide on a temporary tax increase.

Fast forward to the present and the governor is once again wooing legislators, but this time it's members of his own party to make $4 billion more worth of cuts to an already decimated budget.

So far, the Democrats have been unwilling to play ball, claiming that the governor's demands are premature. They're hoping for revenue that just isn't there.

One side doesn't want to raise revenue; the other side doesn't want to make cuts.

It may be Brown who can't catch a break, but it's the people of California who are about to pay the price.

Over the past year, the state has spent about $3 billion more than it expected and collected about $3 billion less.

That means we'll end fiscal year in another hole. Forecasts for the 2012-13 are not better, with analysts suggesting that the new fiscal year will begin with a deficit in the neighborhood of an additional $10 billion.

With Republicans and Democrats going in two different directions, the state is on a collision course with disaster.

But administrators of programs dependent upon state funds have to act on the money they have, not the money they hope to get.

Operating in an environment poisoned with uncertainty, public officials are planning for the worst and making cuts now.

More than 20,000 teachers have received layoff notices and the state university system has issued a directive that will cut admissions to reduce its student population by at least 16,000.

These changes in themselves might not be so bad except for the fact that they are occuring for the third straight year.

The consequences are real. Already California has the highest student-to-teacher ratio in the nation, a ratio that will grow even more.

Drastically reduced state university budgets mean fewer people able to be trained for good jobs, while those lucky enough to be in the system will need more time to graduate because of fewer classes available to them.

All this because of the budget stalemate that won't go away. All this because of legislators who won't face reality.

Whether the stalemate ends this election year remains to be seen. In the meantime, California is in a hole that only grows deeper each day.

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