Newly re-elected Gov. Jerry Brown is getting kudos in the media for taking on the state’s chronic budget deficit with a combination of cuts and tax increases.
MediCal and programs for low-income workers would take major hits. University of California, the California State University System and the state’s community colleges face a staggering $1.4 billion in cuts. One of the few state programs that has shown results in communities across the state and North Bay, redevelopment funding, is on the chopping block.
Gov. Brown even got the budget release choreography correct by taking away the cell phones of thousands of state workers. Perhaps he thought that largely symbolic move would convince people to vote for higher taxes they have already rejected.
But regardless of what one thinks of the proposal – and we think the cuts to higher education are extremely shortsighted – his budget avoids the kind of fundamental change needed in state government.
After the budget cuts and tax increases, the fact is that California’s overly burdensome government and regulatory structure will remain in place. If anything, it will continue to grow. Gov. Brown said nothing about significantly paring back the bureaucracy. And he also said little about promoting job growth in a state with 12 percent unemployment.
And he also avoided the elephant in the room – the massive unfunded pension and health care liabilities at the state, county and municipal levels that could make the current $25 billion budget shortfall look like child’s play.
Whether Gov. Brown’s budget proposal holds up to legislative scrutiny – and that is a big if – the proposal was a missed opportunity to put forward a plan to spur California job growth and reinvent government. There is no better way to raise state revenues than to move people off dependency and into self-sufficiency.
Which brings us back to the draconian cuts to higher education. At the very moment China and India are investing heavily in their universities, Gov. Brown proposes a 16 percent cut to California’s world-renowned higher education system, which is already staggering under existing budget constraints. To cut it so drastically is, in the words of a Palo Alto venture capitalist, “ass-backwards, it’s upside down, it’s stupid.”
And this comes at a time when many studies show California needs more, not fewer, college graduates to fuel the 21st century economy.
And California needs a government consistent with a high-tech, high-wage economy. This budget proposal doesn’t get us there.