Brown’s Budget Schwarzenegger’s Second Coming
By Mark Laluan
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget unveiled Monday has more in common with the substance of his predecessor’s proposals than meets the eye.
Brown has proposed discretionary spending out of the general fund to the tune of $84.6 billion. This amount is just around $1.5 billion less than last fiscal year’s budget of $86.5 billion.
While Brown’s rhetoric has functioned to distance his style of maneuvering from that of his predecessor, the Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, his key demand for a five-year extension of tax increases passed in 2009 to pay down the deficit is a page out of the Gubernator’s own book.
In late 2009, then-Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed tax extensions that were voted down by the electorate. Brown is calling for a similar special election to pass tax extensions that are the centerpiece of his call for an 18-month program to close California’s deficit.
In order to see his proposal through, Brown is calling on the state legislature to call forth a special election in June in an attempt to convince the electorate to pass his tax extension measures.
With key Democrats such as Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento) in support of Brown’s proposals, Brown has shifted his focus to courting Republican support.
While changes to the California constitution have eliminated the two-thirds majority required to pass a state budget, a two-thirds majority is still required to pass any revenue enabling measures, such as taxes.
The tea leaves augur well for Republican acquiescence to Brown’s proposals. State Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), the ranking Republican on the Senate’s special budget panel, has indicated the GOP will not be drafting a counterproposal to Brown’s budget.
This move by the GOP comes out of a desire to avoid becoming the scapegoat for any hiccups in Brown’s fight to fast-track implementation of his proposals.
The governor has called for a $12.5 billion cut to welfare services and public higher education. Public higher education will be hit hard, with a $1 billion reduction in funds to be divided equally between the California State University and University of California systems.
Like clockwork, various public higher education interests have railed against the Governor’s budget. The California State Student Association (CSSA) put out a statement shortly after Brown released his proposed budget, a statement which characterized the budget cuts to the CSU system a “disinvestment in California’s premier higher education system.”
CSUEB Associated Students, Inc. President Mohammed Shahid Beig further elaborated on the CSSA position by heaping criticism on California’s spending priorities.
“It’s a cyclic effect,” said Beig. “The governor proposed to cut the CSU and UC by almost a billion dollars, whereas, the prison and correctional system has not been cut in any way.
“When you cut the two prime institutions of education in California so significantly, you force the universities to decrease enrollment and raise tuition, making college unaffordable,” said Beig. “Young adults end up in the street and it shoots up our crime rate, demanding more funding for the prison system again.”
“That’s why I like to call it the cyclic effect, where the under-funding of universities shoots up correctional costs which further forces the legislator to make cuts to the universities,” continued Beig. “It shows poor prioritizing on behalf of California’s governor. The message is clear: prisons take priority over education.
“It’s disheartening to look at the students and tell them that next year looks worse than the last two years,” said Beig.
CSUEB Masters of History student Adam Zentner shares the same negative option of Brown’s proposals, but for a very different reason.
“California is staring across into the economic abyss,” said Zentner. “Cuts need to happen, but increasing taxes is going to drive out more businesses out of the state. If Brown was serious about fixing California he should break from the Democratic mold and stop playing to special interests.
“If we’re tightening our belts out here,” said Zentner. “Our politicians and state employees ought to be tightening there’s too.”
While Brown has indicated a willingness to reduce salaries of state employees not covered under a standing union contract by at least 8 percent, the governor has shown no indication of touching the salaries of state employees currently covered under union contract.
Brown may be following Schwarzenegger’s fiscal playbook, but he will be in a precarious position if his budget proposals end up expanding to attack the entrenched position that California’s professional and trade unions currently enjoy.
Unions are the backbone of the Democratic Party in California and have always functioned as the crucial third player, alongside Democrats and Republicans, in negotiating a state budget.