As you all have probably heard, Governor Brown released his May Budget Revision with bad news all around. Faced with lower than expected revenues and higher than predicted costs, Jerry is proposing significant mid year cuts to a series of important health and human services, support structures for the poor, financial assistance to students. He temporarily shields K-12 from immediate cuts but makes it clear that they will be cut drastically (to the tune of 5.5 Billion) if his revenue proposals do not pass in the fall. (33-40). For higher education the prospect is bleak: immediately UC will lose access (at least for a year) to 38M of the 90M that the January Budget had proposed to help in funding the UC Pensions. But the more dire prospect comes in the increased size of triggered cuts if Brown's revenue proposals fail: both CSU and UC will lose $250M instead of the original $200M and the CC will lose about $300M. Even before the triggers we can expect that the Regents, and perhaps the CSU Board, will be proposing tuition increases this summer.
Two things need to be made clear about the May Revise. First, Governor Brown apparently has decided to hold the state's educational future hostage to the success of his revenue proposals. It is possible that this strategy is a smart one politically: Californians have repeatedly indicated that they are willing to pay higher taxes to support education. Brown has decided to put this claim to a test. Unfortunately, his proposals are not polling all that well these days.
But we should also recognize that Brown has chosen to frame the budget situation as an either/or: either devastating cuts or the success of his proposals (where we will get less devastating cuts). Although it is true that he is bound to produce a balanced budget, as Dan Mitchell at the UCLA Faculty Association Blog has repeatedly pointed out (here, here, and here just for a few instances) even the Legislative Analyst has recognized that rather than eliminating inherited debt immediately as Brown insists, the debt could be lowered over time and in a more gradual fashion. It is his insistence on eliminating what he calls a "wall of debt" and instituting an immediate surplus that drives his depiction of the size of the State's budget deficit. It also speaks to his failure to explain to Californians that--as the California Budget Project pointed out again today--the remarkable decline in corporate tax contributions due to the rewriting of the tax codes that is a driving force in the decline of the State's revenues. Brown's strategy is a political and ideological choice; not a fact of nature.
In so doing, Brown is acting out his own version of the European Austerians whose insistence on debt reduction rather than growth has driven down revenues, driven up unemployment, and threatened to send Europe into an even deeper spiral of economic crisis. Unfortunately, in California there seems to be no organized political institution articulating a counter-austerian position as there is in Europe.
Brown's destructive framing does not, of course, mean that we should not support his proposed revenue increases. They appear all that may stand to prevent a further hollowing out of the public sector and a meaningful re-engagement with public education and the future of the state. But his May Revise is another example of the political class's unwillingness to put into practice concrete plans to establish a flourishing society in America.
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