After weeks of dire warnings about budget cuts so gruesome nothing could prepare you for the horror, California Gov. Jerry Brown has released his proposed budget. Pregnant women, people with heart conditions and children under the age of 17 will absolutely not be allowed to view the 266-page proposal [pdf], a savage nightmare journey that delivers on quite a few of the promised cuts but, like so much that comes out of the Golden State, falls short of box office expectations.
The broad breakdown: Of the total $84.6 billion in 2011-2012 spending, 29.6 percent will go to K-12 education; 28.1 to health and human services; 10 percent to business, transportation and housing (how do those three go together?); 8.3 percent to "higher education"; 7.2 to imprison people; 5.3 percent to general government; 4.5 percent to legislative, judicial and executive; 4.1 to natural resources; 1.2 percent to environmental protection; 1.1 to state and consumer "services"; and 0.6 percent to labor and workforce development.
Brown claims this year's budget, if enacted in its current form, will chop $12.5 billion from a projected $25 billion deficit over the next two years. Republicans say the deficit reduction will come closer to $8 billion.
I say the budget could come nowhere close to being balanced and it would still be a step in the right direction for one reason alone: Brown is proposing to eliminate all state funding for the redevelopment agencies that have brought nothing but blight and union thuggery to the state's major cities. I'll have more on the RDAs' long trail of destruction in an upcoming column, but Brown's effort—though it will almost certainly die in the goon-controlled legislature—deserves a deep bow/curtsy.
Other items of interest in the budget: A new proposal for "realignment" of state and local spending and decision-making. This is another favorite item of Jerry Brown's that draws deep opposition from both the right and the left. The former Oakland mayor's wish to devolve more decisions to local governments is genuine, but it is also bound up in his history of opposition to Proposition 13, the 1978 constitutional limit on property tax rates that has over time resulted in centralization of public school budgeting in Sacramento. In an L.A. Times op-ed, Los Angeles County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina recoil in horror at the prospect of realignment, but part of their argument—that Prop 13 limits make it impossible for counties to handle jobs now done by the state—hints at Brown's longterm goal: to get rid of Prop 13 entirely.
That having been said, Prop 13 is untouched in the current proposal, as are elementary and high school education. That's not a huge achievement—these spending decisions are largely restricted by voter-approved constitutional changes. But it's a credit to Jerry Brown that the proposal contains cuts as steep as any that ever came out of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Which is another way of saying it is unlikely to pass in anything like its current form. The Contra Costa Times' Josh Richman has a good roundup of reactions, including a pretty categorical piss-take from the California Federation of Teachers and a polite rejection from Service Employees International Union. Also in the negative column are the heads of the University of California, California State, and California Community College systems (who really should be made to go into Thunderdome on a three-schools-enter-two-schools-leave basis). According to one analysis I've seen, the new budget would mean that for the first time, out-of-pocket costs for tuition will be larger than the state subsidy—and everybody knows that when students have to pay for the majority of their worthless diplomas, California will become Somalia with a longer coastline.
Republicans are unhappy with the budget, and even Democratic leaders like Assembly Speaker John Perez can only manage grudging assent. Which raises a deliciously diabolical possibility: Even with total political control and the straight-majority budget requirement approved in Prop 25 last November, the Democrats may not be able to pass a budget on schedule. And as Jerry Brown admitted in a press conference today, he doesn't really have a plan B if this one goes down in flames. Good times…