Gov. proposes dramatic cuts to state budget

January 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The governor is proposing dramatic and painful cuts to California prisons, parks and schools.

Twenty-thousand dollars from every classroom -- that's how deep the teachers union claims the governor's cuts to education will go in closing an unprecedented state budget gap. They are the draconian measures we've been warned about for years.

Governor Schwarzenegger today declared a "fiscal emergency" and is calling for across-the-board spending cuts affecting virtually everyone in California.

A quick breakdown:

  • He proposes trimming almost every state agency by 10-percent. Total spending would go down for the first time in seven years.
  • He proposes closing down 48 parks -- nearly one in every five in the state park system.
  • He calls for the early release of 22,000 prison inmates and laying off 6,000 prison employees.
  • Medi-Cal payments to the poor, and to the low-income elderly and disabled would be reduced.
  • The biggest cuts will happen in the schools. More than four billion dollars over the next year-and-a-half.

Everyone agrees that this is just a starting point. It's now up to Democrats and Republicans to hash out a final version. By declaring a fiscal emergency, the governor forces lawmakers to start making cuts within 45 days instead of waiting until July 1 when the new budget year starts.

Governor Schwarzenegger gave Californians a dose of reality as he unveiled his 2008/2009 budget proposal. With state needs greater than the money available, he cut every department 10-percent, rather than raising taxes.

"We cannot tax our way out of this problem. I do not believe in tax increases. I think the people of California are sending to Sacramento plenty of dollars -- $130 some billion dollars they're sending every year for us to function," said the governor.

While he partly blamed the foreclosure crisis for the $14.5 billion dollar budget shortfall, the governor says the biggest problem is laws that automatically increase spending.

One of the hardest hit departments is education, hitting Proposition 98 funding, which is supposed to be a sacred cow. It constitutionally guarantees more money for schools every year. But instead, he's asking the legislature to suspend it, cutting $400 million now and four billion dollars starting in July.

"It's the most worst, most disastrous budget," says Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for public schools.

Gordon estimates the cut will mean $20,000 less for each classroom, maybe $700 less per pupil. California is already 43rd in the country on per pupil spending.

"To try and take four billion dollars out of public education in one year next year, is going to be a cut that every parent with kids in the public school system is going to feel. They're going to notice these kinds of cuts," says Gordon.

Democrats acknowledge cuts have to be made, even in education. However, they want to raise taxes to lessen the blow.

"Right now, how we can shape the state consistent with the money we have, and then we're going to have to decide what else is necessary to have the state that we want," says State Senator Don Perata.

The last time the governor cut education, crowds of protesters followed him everywhere and his popularity ratings plunged. Some in the education community are already hinting they might re-open that playbook.