Brown’s brutal budget

February 3, 2011

Alessandro Tinonga reports on California Gov. Jerry Brown's new austerity budget.

"IF YOU'RE in your car, fasten your seat belt. It's going to be a rough ride," warned Jerry Brown, the newly elected governor of California.

Just a few days after his inauguration, Brown released his highly anticipated budget proposal for 2011. California is facing a $25.4 billion budget gap over the next 18 months. The governor's budget proposes to cut spending by $12.5 billion and extend $12 billion in tax increases.

Brown's package is straightforward austerity--it will force workers, students and the poor to pay for the economic crisis by gutting social services and raising regressive taxes.

Cuts include a 10 percent pay reduction for most state employees; $1.7 billion slashed from Medi-Cal, the state's version of the Medicaid program for the poor; $1.5 billion cut from CalWorks, a welfare-to-work program; and $750 million taken from the Department of Developmental Services.

Higher education in California will suffer a massive hit. A combined $1 billion will be cut from the University of California (UC) and the California State University systems, threatening the future education of hundreds of thousands of students. Tuition increases imposed by the UC regents alone will force their students to pay $30,000 for a four-year education.

California Gov. Jerry Brown
California Gov. Jerry Brown (Terence Lee)

Fees for community college will rise to $36 per course unit, from $26. Overall, the cuts will close the doors for up to 350,000 students at California's 110 community colleges.

The only exception to the cuts appear to be funding to K-12 education. However, the San Francisco Chronicle noted, "Brown plans to put off $2.1 billion in payments to K-12 public schools, a practice known as a 'payment deferral.' Such deferrals have been common practice in past budgets and have yet to be paid in full. Adding that much more would bring such deferred payments owed to schools to a total of nearly $10 billion."

WHAT IS truly astounding is the unanimous chorus from California's Democratic Party machine praising Brown's proposed budget. Even the most liberal Democratic politicians unflinchingly support the governor's austerity package.

When interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, state Sen. Mark Leno said, "We've hit the wall, and I as a Democrat and chair of the budget committee recognize what the governor is going to propose on Monday is going to be very distasteful, very painful, opposed to everything we've fought for all these years, but this is where we are."

The Democrats are now the cheerleaders for everything that they claimed to fight against under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. For seven years, Democrats demanded that the safety net for the poor, children, sick and the elderly be spared. Today, the Democrats say everything is up for grabs in California. Proposals for many of the same deep cuts to services that Schwarzenegger attempted are now on the table.

What workers, students and the elderly need to solve the crisis is not on the table. Radical solutions need to be considered.

Recently, the Los Angeles Times posted a "California Budget Balancer" and challenged its readers to make a better budget under the parameters of the current debate.

A more effective and just proposal is taxing the rich. California has the eighth-largest economy in the world, with some of the most profitable corporations in the country, such as Apple, Cisco, Genentech, Google and Intel. Billions would be generated by raising the corporate tax rate from 5.5 percent to 9.7 percent on corporations like these. Corporate tax breaks and loopholes should be eliminated, oil companies should pay severance fees, and a progressive tax structure should be instituted.

Under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the highest federal income tax bracket on earned income was 92 percent, and for capital gains, it was 91 percent. Today, those brackets stand at 35 percent and 15 percent respectively. Some may be wary of reinstating a tax policy from 50 years ago, but with the return of Jerry Brown, Californians have overcome their fear of returning relics.

In order to get these demands on the table, the people of California have to fight back. Brown's proposed cuts need to be combated on every level. Unionized public-sector workers and teachers need to be defended. Students need to fight the rise in tuition and fees.

Everyone who is sick of paying for the economic crisis should build for the March 2nd Day of Action to defend education. Only an organized fightback will bring a real solution to the crisis of California.

Further Reading

From the archives