Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Budget Stalemate: Day 71

A Senator Expresses Disappointment in Inability to Pass a California Budget With Balanced Solutions

By Tom Torlakson
California State Senate

With the state budget stalemate now over two months old, I am extremely disappointed in the State Legislature's inability to pass a budget that includes a balanced solution to the $15.5 billion projected deficit.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF LATE BUDGETS

I know the failure to pass a state budget has a real and deep impacts on our community. The ramifications are all too real for people and organizations providing necessary services. My staff and I have talked to school leaders, small business owners supplying health care and food to state institutions, providers of homes for people with developmental disabilities, child care providers, students who will soon not receive their CalGrants, senior day care center operators, and others who are facing the consequences of the budget gridlock every day.

State Controller John Chiang reports that he has been unable to make $4.25 billion in payments so far because no new state budget is in place. There are $7.6 billion in payments that will go unpaid if the budget stalemate were to tragically continue through the end of September.

It may cost up to a half billion dollars to borrow money to pay the state's bills in the absence of a budget. That is money that instead should go fund services Californians require. We need to act!

MAKING CONCESSIONS, SEEKING COMPROMISE

My colleagues in the Democratic caucus have offered numerous concessions over the past few months, without success. A half year's work on the budget produced a balanced budget agreeable to the majority of both houses of our legislature. But this carefully crafted budget was unable to gain the required two-thirds support in the legislature.

Since June, Democrats have reluctantly agreed to billions in additional cuts to our schools, child care, children's health, medical providers, and other programs. Our budget to close corporate loopholes and to reinstate higher tax brackets on the wealthiest Californians was rejected by the Republicans, so we have accepted the Governor's temporary sales tax increase. We have, so far, rejected plans to borrow from Proposition 1A (2004) local government or Proposition 1A (2006) transportation funds.

SENATE REPUBLICANS OFFER BUDGET PROPOSAL YESTERDAY

We were finally able to debate a detailed budget plan from my Republican colleagues on the Senate floor yesterday. Unfortunately, it was a budget that would starve our schools at a time when they need more resources to meet rigorous federal and state accountability standards.

The Republican budget literally gambles with our school funding. It uses a risky and legally dubious securitization scheme to "fill the gap" between funding schools at the minimum level and achieving the $1.9 billion higher spending amount Democrats put forward in the spirit of compromise. The Governor's Department of Finance believes this lottery proposal is not legally viable because such securitization requires a vote of the people.

So the Republicans want to rely on gambling and "rolling the dice" to fund our schools. It is highly probable that when their lottery scheme does not work, schools would receive $600 million less this year than they did last year. Schools have already made series of cuts--and then cut more again.

I adamantly urged a NO vote on this irresponsible, destructive budget--which would compound harm by an on-going reduction of $2 billion per year in the Proposition 98 schools guaranteed funding. It is a gamble we must not accept!

This scheme is on top of spending reductions many school districts have put in place already--a situation which has led to increased class sizes, dismantling of career technical education courses, elimination of arts and music, reductions in technology, and other decisions that will harm our students and our state over the long-term.

STARVING OUR SCHOOLS

As I told my Senate colleagues on the floor, given our students' needs, we should be debating increasing public education spending by billions of dollars--not starving our schools even further. Last year's Getting Down to Facts adequacy study estimates that California should spend at least $15 billion to $24 billion a year more to ensure every student can meet "academically rigorous content standards and performance standards in all major subject areas."

Should we really talk about further starving our schools of needed resources when we rank 45th in eighth grade math achievement and 43rd in eighth grade science achievement? When we rank 46th in per pupil spending when adjusted for regional cost-of-living differences?

We must not pass a budget that dishonors and ignores our students' positive aspirations and dreams. That rejects the promises of our state's education master plan. That leaves our students ill-prepared to compete in the 21st century global economy.

There is no doubt that spending cuts are required this year and we must always strive to spend every dollar efficiently. But, as I have previously argued, we must make certain that any resolution to this current budget deadlock does not leave California incapable of providing a public education system offering a rigorous and relevant curriculum, the infrastructure needed to support continued economic vitality, services for the most vulnerable members of our society, or a health care system able to care for and protect our residents.

Read the entire post at California Progress Report.

Senator Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) represents the Seventh Senatorial District, including most of Contra Costa County. He is the chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Schools and Community. Senator Torlakson is also a member of the Senate Education and Transportation and Housing Committees. A teacher and coach, Senator Torlakson is the Chair and Founder of the California Task Force on Youth and Workplace Wellness, a group seeking to raise the profile of health and fitness in the public schools and in the workplace. He is currently on the faculty at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, California.
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