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Op-Ed: The Governor's Budget Proposal — A Realistic Approach

Mary Jane Burke, Marin County Superintendent of Schools, urges support of Governor Brown's budget initiative for a statewide tax increase, expected to be placed on the November ballot.

Op-Ed: The Governor's Budget Proposal — A Realistic Approach

By Mary Jane Burke

The Governor’s message at the release of his May Revision of the State Budget on Monday, May 14, 2012, was succinct and brief, “I am doing the best I can with what I have.”  To his credit, the Governor is doing something that many of his predecessors and other elected leaders did not do; he is leveling with the people of California and proposing a way out of the fiscal morass that has plagued us for many years.  He is proposing a tax initiative that, coupled with substantial cuts, will ultimately bring us as a state to a point where we will be living within our means.  The measure will enact temporary income tax increases on high-income earners. It will raise income taxes by up to three percent on the wealthiest Californians for seven years and will also increase the state sales tax by one quarter of one percent for four years.          

What the Governor and, indeed all Californians face, is a series of very difficult choices.  The facts are these:

  • The state is facing a $16 billion dollar deficit.
  • The days of using “smoke and mirrors” to cover the deficit are long passed.
  • Without additional revenue, drastic cuts will have to be made, including more in reductions to the public schools, community colleges and higher education.  By way of example, without the additional income proposed by the Governor’s initiative, “automatic triggers” will occur in January, 2013 that will result in unprecedented reductions to schools, including the loss of $5.5 billion and the potential of cutting instructional time by three weeks for 2012-13 and 2013-14. We cannot justify our children attending school fewer days when students in most developed countries attend more than we do now.       
  • Cal Grants for eligible students, Cal WORKS that provides support for childcare to allow parents to move from welfare to work, Medi-Cal and other social services vital to the most vulnerable residents in our state will be drastically reduced.
  • The courts will be adversely affected so that justice for victims of crime or decisions in civil matters will be delayed.
  • Governor Brown’s measure works within the framework of the state budget and will, if passed, increase funding for schools and protect public safety funding while also stemming cuts to other critical safety net programs.

It is true that between the time that the Governor’s initiative proposal passes and the increased revenues are realized, things will be very difficult for schools and safety net programs. Schools, for example, must submit a balanced budget to the state by the last day of June each year.  Without knowing what the outcome of the Governor’s initiative will be, schools will have to, as the Governor said, “…plan a prudent budget based on their understanding of what we’re trying to do.”  

The view that we take as voters cannot be narrow.  We cannot just worry about the impact on schools or roads or special services.  We cannot just worry about “me.”  We cannot spend our time “blaming the past.”  All of us who live in California and love this state have to care.  The Governor is right—we have run out of choices.  We must see this as a crisis about our entire state and the quality of life and vitality of our economy for generations yet to come.  Nothing less is at stake. In a spirit of hope and optimism, I urge you for the sake of children, families and all of our fellow residents who need our help, to carefully consider the facts and the effort to address a problem too long ignored—a solution that promises a better future for California.  I urge support of the Governor’s initiative in the November 6, 2012 election.

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