Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Budget Stalemate: Day 64

It is September and the legislature has still not passed a budget.

Once again Californians are treated to a budget standoff-as we have been so often in the last 10 years. This is not a failure to govern on the part of the legislature although it is portrayed as such in local sound bite news reports. The majority party could have passed a budget on June 15 but it is blocked from governing by the Republican minority including Assemblyman Roger Neillo, co-owner of the local Neillo auto dealerships.
It is clear that a budget resolution will require some cut back and some tax increases. It makes a great deal of difference which taxes will be increased. Republicans use the requirement of a 2/3 vote on taxes to block majority rule and to prevent tax increases. This is misgovernment by ideology.

THE REPUBLICAN PROPOSAL IS DEVASTATING TO CALIFORNIA’S STUDENTS AND SCHOOLS:

The Republican proposal cuts more than $5 billion from education and replaces ongoing money with one-time dollars that would only create a deeper budget hole next year.
The Republican proposal gives the governor the power to cut local school budgets in the middle of school year, making it extremely difficult for schools to plan or function, meet the needs of students or attract and retain quality teachers and school employees.
The Republican plan to "securitize" the lottery irresponsibly takes a big gamble with our students future, cutting schools by $2 billion and putting at risk more than $1 billion in lottery funds that currently support our schools, with only a hope that this scheme to borrow against the lottery can make up the difference.

Schools across California are opening. Over 6 million children are returning to school. Some 477,000 will be entering first grade in over 5,000 schools. Each of these schools have a budget and each of these budgets are in confusion while the state decides what to do about their budget crisis. At least 25% of the schools will not be ready for the students because the school doesn’t know what its budget will be.
Will the school have an ELL teacher or two?
Will there be a reading coach?
Will class size be 24 or 32? Which really means we will have to re-organize each of the classes and the teachers.
What will happen to the new programs established last year under the Quality investment in Education Act?
Shall the district hire a new teacher or only a 30 day substitute ?
Do we have the money for an ELL specialist or will the money be for an algebra teacher? And when we finally hear if we have the money, will the well qualified algebra teacher have moved to another state where this annual disruption of their lives does not occur? Really, would you wait 2-3 months each year to see if you had a job?
And, even in mainstreamed classes, will there be two English Learners or eight?
These are but the start of the many decisions that need to be made. Rather than beginning school in late August, far too many classrooms will have to wait until October while the budget gets decided and allocations are made.

This is a state that ranks 47th. in math and about 48th in reading. A state budget impasse each year creates 4-6 weeks of school disruption, confusion, and disorganization.
And then the legislature calls for accountability?
The budget impasse is not only about whether legislators and their staff’s can attend their respective party conventions. The impasse is also about the annual disruption of education for thousands of California students, and the disruptions of health care payments, and the disruptions of state worker pay, etc.
It is past time for some political accountability.

Yesterday Sen. Stienberg called for a change:

[Editor’s note: At the end of a sometimes tense debate yesterday, Darrell Steinberg in deliberate and reserved tones, spoke on the Senate floor, and made it clear that he will not go through the same dysfunctional budget process again without taking matters to the people--through an initiative or ballot measure placed there by the legislature. He also asked Republicans who are pressing for a continuous funding bill if they would guarantee that the programs they say they want to cut will not be on the list of cuts they are proposing. If you want to watch and listen to Steinberg's speech, go to the archives of the California Channel and fast forward to about 39 minutes into the session.] From California Progress Report.

“First of all, though it doesn’t help much this year, I think this process and the frustration many of us are expressing reveals what must be done next year.

We need to not only think about but begin planning for taking significant questions about state and public finance back to the people of California. And next year as your leader I intend to do that. I’m not going through this anymore. I’m tired of it. It’s unproductive. It does nothing for the way people view us.

You’re right Senator Aanestad, under the current state of the Constitution; it is a two-thirds requirement to pass a state budget. And I know that question has been taken to the people in one form or another. But maybe it has not been take to the people in the right form, at the right time. And so, be prepared next year. Whether it is through the legislature or by the initiative process, we’re not going to go through this anymore."

Duane Campbell
Sacramento
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