Speaking at a conference at UC Berkeley over the weekend, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer went further than some of his counterparts have been willing to go in explaining the crisis that confronts California. Without quick action to shore up the state's balance sheet, he said, California could soon be forced to issue IOUs or defer tax refunds. Then he dropped a bomb: Unless voters agree to the extension of temporary car, income and sales taxes, the state would be so short of money that it might have to whack more than six weeks off the K-12 school year.
That pronouncement got shockingly little attention. Ignored by television, relegated to the back pages — if any — in the state's newspapers, it faded softly into the complicated debate over how bad this situation really is. In fact, even among Californians suffering budget-crisis fatigue, Lockyer's prediction should strike fear.
To be clear, he wasn't saying it would have to happen that way; that's just one scenario. If revenues aren't raised, he told The Times, it would take 31% in across-the-board spending cuts to balance the state budget. That would mean an $11-billion cut for schools, which could be achieved in many ways — by increasing class sizes, for example, or cutting administrative or custodial employees, or revising the calendar, or some combination. But if it were done solely by shortening the school year, it would mean a loss of six to eight weeks.