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$1 billion in California budget cuts to kick in soon

California schools, libraries, prisons and disabled services will all be affected — with more to come, Gov. Jerry Brown warns.

December 14, 2011|By Anthony York and Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
  • Students at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies in Tarzana board buses for home. Because of state budget cuts, free school bus service will end in California.
Students at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies in Tarzana board buses… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Sacramento and Los Angeles -- Gov. Jerry Brown announced nearly $1 billion in new state budget cuts, slashing spending on higher education and eliminating funding for free school-bus service but avoiding the deeper reductions to public schools that many had feared.

Services for the disabled, money for public libraries and funding for state prisons will also be pared. Most of the cuts, announced Tuesday, will take effect Jan. 1.

The reductions were built into the budget that Brown and lawmakers approved in June, set to kick in if revenue did not reach the optimistic level they had assumed. Brown warned that more cuts are around the corner, in the spending plan for 2012-13 that he will unveil next month.

"This is not the way we'd like to run California, but we have to live within our means," Brown said at a Capitol news conference. But he noted that the cuts could have been worse.

An earlier forecast from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office had schools bracing for cuts of more than $1.4 billion. Instead, a burst of corporate and personal income tax receipts that were higher than expected led the administration to raise its cash-flow projections.

Now school budgets will be reduced by about $330 million, including $248 million that pays for buses. Los Angeles schools will bear $38 million of those transportation cuts, and Supt. John Deasy announced Tuesday that the district would file suit to block the state from taking those funds.

"We would have nothing left for transportation," Deasy said at Tuesday's school board meeting. "The most vulnerable youth in Los Angeles," he added, would suffer "irreparable harm."

The governor said schools can pay for bus service out of their reserves, something that representatives from other large districts said they planned to do. Districts are required by federal law to provide transportation for certain special-education and some low-performing students.

Bernie Rhinerson, chief of staff of the San Diego Unified School District, said his district could weather the cuts without reducing its bus program. San Diego pared bus service by about 25% last year, eliminating it for about 4,000 students and adding fees for some.

Other cuts announced Tuesday could also be thwarted by the courts. Among them is a $100-million reduction for workers who care for the sick and elderly in their homes. A federal judge recently issued a temporary order against such cuts in a lawsuit filed preemptively.

Those cuts "would place hundreds of thousands of fragile lives in jeopardy," said Laphonza Butler, president of the union that represents 180,000 home aides and nursing home workers. "We simply can't balance our state's budget on the backs of our most vulnerable residents."

Brown also ordered $100 million in cuts to services for the developmentally disabled. Many of those services, such as specialized medical care, counseling and job training for the mentally ill, are offered through regional centers. Advocates fear the new reductions may force thousands into state-run institutions.

The University of California and California State University systems are slated for additional $100-million cuts on top of the $650-million hit each took in the current budget. Officials from both had previously announced that they would not raise tuition further this year but said Tuesday that tuition increases and further reductions to academic programs are possible next year.

"We were aware that this was a possibility, and our campuses have been planning accordingly," said Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed. "However, the uncertainty of the overall fiscal outlook for the state is not encouraging, and the CSU has run out of good options."

Community colleges are expected to raise fees an additional $10 per unit to counteract the state cuts.

Cameron Hoffman, a theater arts production major at Butte College in Oroville, said he works 20 hours a week on campus and is barely scraping by. A new fee hike will make it even harder to pay for his education; his textbooks cost $500 last semester.

"If I make it to my next paycheck with $5 in the bank, I'm happy," said Hoffman, 21, who is active in student government. "These people that are voting for fee increases are not realizing that they went through college themselves, in times that were better for the college system and without the struggles that we're going through now."

Republicans blamed the latest round of budget cuts on Democrats. Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), vice chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, chastised the majority party for having passed "a budget without Republican input that included rosy revenue assumptions and onerous trigger cuts to education should the tax money not come in."

Next year's projected state deficit is $13 billion. Brown hopes to persuade voters to approve a $6.8-billion tax hike in November, but he said that even if such an increase passed, the state would have to make reductions.

"We will have a number of more cuts — far more than $1 billion — and they'll be to the same kind of state services," the governor said.

He added that whatever reductions he proposes next would double if voters rejected higher taxes.

anthony.york@latimes.com

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writers Carla Rivera, Larry Gordon and Howard Blume contributed to this report.

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