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Editorial

Budget cuts will cost us later

The reductions will harm the elderly, the disabled and students in ways that will hurt all Californians in the future.

December 15, 2011

There's such a thing as tightening our collective belt or making do with less. When that happens, Californians raise fees or close another public office for a few additional days or cram a few more students into an already full classroom without screaming too loudly about it. But something entirely different is happening now: California is becoming a state that lets down its elderly, its disabled, its children and its college students in fundamental ways that will harm all of us in the years ahead.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced another $1 billion in new state cuts touching all of those groups. The lion's share — about $530 million — are aimed at education. Close to half of that comes from school bus programs, and will be a special blow to districts such as Los Angeles Unified, where many students need buses to attend magnet programs or other schools outside of the failing ones in their own neighborhoods, and where few can afford to pay for their own transportation. To offset the cuts, the district will either have to tap its reserve, which exists to cover for major emergencies, or pull money from other programs.

As a result of the governor's cuts, fees will rise again at the community colleges and California State University, although generous financial-aid packages will ease the blow for most who need help. The bigger concern is whether students will be able to enroll in the courses they need. Last academic year, almost 140,000 first-time students at the community colleges weren't able to get into any classes at all.

Tuition increases at the University of California have become so closely spaced and so steep that UC Berkeley — where expenses are now more than $30,000 a year — on Wednesday announced financial aid packages for families earning up to $140,000.

California is constitutionally obligated to provide a free and universal public education of at least reasonable quality to all its K-12 students; its failure to do so is shameful. For all the perfectly valid debates about school reform, the primary threat to education right now isn't whether test scores are used to evaluate teachers; it's that funding is so deficient that it is increasingly difficult for even excellent instructors to be effective.

Failure to provide home healthcare and other services for the elderly, ill and developmentally disabled — an additional $210 million in cuts — means many fragile Californians will have to enter institutions, where the bill for taxpayers will be even higher.

This page has long advocated a combination of cuts and new revenue for the state to operate within its budget. The first part of that has been done, and done, and done; it has reached the point where any further significant cutting represents unacceptable harm to the state and too many of its residents. The time has come to talk about the options for the other side of the equation.

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