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Gov. Jerry Brown signs 'honest but painful' budget

The $129-billion package slashes funds for state commissions and higher education while relying on a $4-billion windfall in revenue.

July 01, 2011|By Shane Goldmacher, Los Angeles Times
  • Joining Gov. Jerry Brown for the signing of the state budget Thursday at the Capitol were Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
Joining Gov. Jerry Brown for the signing of the state budget Thursday at… (Hector Amezcua / Associated…)

Reporting from Sacramento -- Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed California's second on-time, balanced budget in a decade — one that will sharply curb the services the state offers and that relies on a windfall of revenue.

Unlike his predecessor, Brown used his line-item veto power relatively sparingly, dashing $270 million in spending, mostly from railway projects. He also reduced money for state commissions on higher education and women, eliminated funding for a data system to track teacher performance and further trimmed court spending.

The governor enacted the $129-billion package, with a general fund of $86-billion, in his Capitol office with little fanfare. "This is an honest but painful budget," he said in a statement.

The signing, attended by the Legislature's two Democratic leaders, also marked the official concession that Brown had failed to deliver a bipartisan spending plan. The same partisanship that had entangled his two predecessors also ensnared Brown, despite all the "experience, knowledge and know-how" he boasted of on the campaign trail last year.

Democratic lawmakers passed the package earlier this week, using a new voter-approved law that allowed them to do so with a simple majority vote. They bridged the final $4 billion that remained of a more than $25-billion deficit by assuming that an equivalent amount of unanticipated money will land in state coffers. Tax revenue has far outpaced projections so far this year.

If the extra money fails to materialize, the state will chop deeper into social services, prisons, universities and courts, and possibly cut up to seven days off the school year.

Already, the plan contains severe cuts, including reductions of about 23% to public universities, raising the price of medical care for the poor, closing senior centers and cutting welfare grants and cash aid for the elderly and disabled. Seventy state parks are slated for closure, community college fees are on the rise and mental health programs will be trimmed heavily.

"We gave our pound of flesh at the office," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said Thursday.

Brown took even more. He carved more than $234 million out of transportation bond money, saying some projects did not mesh well enough with the state's nascent high-speed rail project.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will lose $5.7 million, and Metrolink will forfeit about $35.2 million as a result, the governor's finance department said. That will delay a program to seal off rail corridors to pedestrians and motor vehicles, Metrolink officials said.

Courts, which have already absorbed $350 million in budget reductions that the state's chief justice has said threaten California's justice system, were subjected to an additional $22.8 million cut. Financial officials said that money was unnecessary because the program it would have paid for was no longer planned.

Brown completely eliminated the California Postsecondary Education Commission, saving $1.9 million. For nearly four decades, the panel has coordinated planning between California's three branches of higher education — the California State University and University of California systems and the community colleges. In his veto message, Brown called the commission ineffective.

The governor also axed $2.1 million in federal money for a data system known as CalTIDES, intended to track teacher performance. He maintained funding for a student database, known as CalPADS. In May, he had proposed suspending money for both.

"It's unfortunate that it sounds like we're one step forward, one step back," said Bill Lucia, president of the education advocacy group EdVoice. The organization pushes for the use of more data to make education policy.

Brown slashed more than 40% from the budget of the Commission on the Status of Women to save $200,000; he had previously proposed abolishing it.

The governor's budget director, Ana Matosantos, blamed Republican resistance to taxes for many of the latest cutbacks.

Though the budget is signed, the fight is not over. Brown, Democrats and their allies have indicated they will now begin to plot which taxes to seek through a ballot initiative next year, saying California's financial well-being cannot be restored until more revenue is on the books.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Dan Weikel contributed to this report.

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