| Having barely escaped Arnold's demands for budget cuts this spring, education in California is in his crosshairs yet again. Arnold is announcing that California now faces a $10 billion deficit and as a result, held a closed-door meeting with education leaders warning them of cuts of $2 to $4 billion that could come as soon as next month.
The reaction was swift:
"There is just no way we would be able to cut that much," said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Assn., who was at the meeting. "For virtually every district I know of, this would be catastrophic."...
Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. David L. Brewer said that Schwarzenegger's proposal would cost the district as much as $440 million. He called cuts of that magnitude "impossible."
"They're going to have to go out and borrow money because we'd go bankrupt," Brewer said. "Fiscally, we can't do that without literally having to shut down schools."
By law, teachers cannot be fired unless they are told months in advance.
"You can't just hand out pink slips," Brewer said. Teachers "have protections, they have union agreements."
Plotkin was also quoted in the SF Chronicle saying he thought this was an effort by Arnold to scare the education community into backing a budget that wasn't cuts only. But I am not so sure this is the case. Arnold is talking as if education cuts are inevitable, and if he were truly interested in avoiding them, he would not have called a lame-duck legislature into session - he'd have waited until December 1 and allowed a new legislature with fewer Yacht Party members to take their seats and solve the mess.
Complicating matters is the fact that the budget deal that resulted from Don Perata's surrender in September is worse than we expected according to an analysis posted at the California Progress Report:
In a nutshell, the budget agreement includes new sweeping midyear cut authority for the executive branch, a restrictive new state spending cap that was billed as an expansion of the state's rainy day fund, and new corporate tax breaks that will cost the state more than $1 billion a year. The first two proposals require voter approval, presumably in a June 2009 special election, but the tax breaks are permanent unless reversed by the Legislature or at the ballot box.
All three proposals were carefully crafted by their proponents but were jammed through the Legislature at the last minute without receiving property scrutiny and review. Democratic leaders have vehemently opposed similar proposals in the past but surrendered on all three proposals in one fell swoop-a boon to fiscally conservative Republicans who have fought for a restrictive state spending cap and midyear cut authority for years.
The spending cap and midyear cut authority undermine the power of Democrats to protect education funding. Apparently these aren't yet in effect, but Democrats have already given up as much as they can. Beginning November 5th their job is to fight, fight, fight. They will likely have a voter mandate to do so.
They will also have common sense on their side. Cutting education spending - or any other government spending - during a severe recession is an act of madness that guarantees the recession will get deeper and last longer. Arnold needs to not only look at a new sales tax, but admit his error and restore the Vehicle License Fee, which would restore $6 billion to the budget immediately and make this immeasurably easier to solve.
Only if Democrats hold their ground will that happen. And for them to hold their ground, we must make them do so.