Gov. Jerry Brown pulls trigger: Colleges, schools and services for elderly and disabled hit

NOTE: Ellen Rollins, President of SEIU 521 Home Care Chapter is quoted in this San Jose Mercury News article.

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Published in San Jose Mercury News

Posted: 12/14/2011 07:45:48 AM PST
Updated: 12/14/2011 07:45:54 AM PST

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday he would slash nearly $1 billion in funding for higher education, K-12 schools and services for the elderly and mentally disabled, but schools will be largely spared from the devastating cuts many had feared.

Because revenue has fallen $2.2 billion short of the $4 billion it had penciled into the budget because of an improving economy, Brown’s administration is being forced to make $981 million in “trigger cuts” under a budget plan agreed to by Brown and Democratic legislators last June.

The shortfall, however, was below previous estimates, allowing the state to avoid deeper cuts to public schools that could have included reducing the school year by up to seven days.

“I think we’re very fortunate that at least we got half the revenue, and the trigger cuts are under $1 billion instead of almost $2.5 billion,” Brown said. “So we did hope for more and we got more, but not quite as much as we wanted.”

The cuts are the finishing touches to a year in which Brown and the Democratic-led Legislature had to close a $27 billion deficit. And they will be followed with more misery, Brown said, noting that he is in the midst of writing next year’s budget, which is $13 billion below current spending levels.

School district officials across the state breathed a sigh of relief at averting the bulk of the trigger cuts. Although they’ll face a $327.6 million hit for K-12 school funding, it will be colleges, MediCal, child care, counties, local libraries and services for the mentally and physically disabled that will be hardest hit.

The governor plans to cut $102 million from community colleges and $100 million each from the University of California and the California State University systems.

While CSU will not raise tuition mid-year — instead drawing on reserves and delaying purchases and maintenance — fee increases are possible next year.

“I don’t know where it’s going to stop,” said Leroy Madarang, 22, a senior at San Jose State University. “It’s either work more hours, get another job or take out another loan.”

At community colleges, fees will increase by $10, to $46 per unit beginning in the summer. This will be on top of the $10 free hike this fall.

Most K-12 school districts had braced for far worse cuts that would have forced them to negotiate furlough days. Instead, many will dip into reserves. About three-quarters of the K-12 cuts will come from transportation funds, but that doesn’t mean that school buses will stop rolling in January. Districts have flexibility in dipping into different pots of money.

In Contra Costa County, most districts planned for midyear trigger cuts that envisioned the worst-case scenario and have built in reserves to cover them. The Mt. Diablo district also built seven furlough days into its budget, which have not yet been negotiated with its teachers’ union.

Now that state budget cuts are less severe than anticipated, the district will not need to dig as deeply into the $10.7 million reserve it set aside for midyear cuts, and teachers are hoping to avoid the planned furlough days. The district originally set aside $330 per student, but will only need to cut between $11 and $13 per student, said Mark York, executive director of the teachers’ union.

“I think this changes the discussion,” York said. “Certainly, the assumptions on which they based the budget have changed dramatically.”

The governor’s announcement means that the 13,000-student New Haven Unified School District in Union City will no longer need to slice six or seven more days from its calendar to balance its budget, said Rick La Plante, a spokesman for the school district. As it is, New Haven schoolchildren have five fewer days of classes this year. The worst-case trigger cuts scenario might have meant 11 or 12 fewer days of school than there were in 2010-12, when there were 180 days of instruction, he said.

At San Jose State, students are delaying graduation because they can’t get into the courses needed for their majors. Madarang anticipates having to take a sixth year to get his accounting degree. “Students have to go to college to get jobs,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s no choice but to absorb this.”

The trigger cuts will slash $100 million in programs serving the developmentally disabled at regional centers, and $101.5 million from the In-Home Supportive Services program.

That cut translates into a 20 percent across-the-board reduction in the number of hours for IHSS workers who assist roughly 250,000 disabled and elderly clients so they can remain in their homes by helping them with feeding, bathing and health care. The program that is credited with keeping the homebound from far more costly nursing homes has already sustained deep cuts, some of which are now held up in court.

Ellen Rollins of San Jose cares for her 46-year-old quadriplegic daughter, Terri Carter, under the IHSS program.

After a drunk driver struck Carter in a hit-and-run accident more than two decades ago, Rollins cut short an international career to move in with her daughter and provide her with round-the-clock care when it appeared she would otherwise end up institutionalized.

Carter is a student at San Jose City College and dreams of being an architect. But she needs constant care to remain at home. A 20 percent cut in Rollins’ billable hours would make it even more difficult for the family to survive in Silicon Valley on her wage of $12.20 an hour. And she’s confounded that far more costly state-funded nursing home care is what the governor and policymakers envision.

The governor’s latest plan also proposes a $67.7 million savings in the juvenile justice portion of the budget by raising the costs to counties who send their most serious and violent offenders to state lock-ups. The financial disincentive is heralded by youth advocates, who say it will mean more youth offenders remaining in county facilities closer to their homes and families, where treatment is more likely to take place.

Brown promised more pain ahead in the 2012-13 budget, which he will present to the Legislature next month.

“In three weeks, we’ll have a number of more cuts, for more than $1 billion,” he said. “They will be the same kind of state services, very important to help the poor, elderly, students. But we don’t have the money and we’re going to cut back.”

He invoked a Latin phrase, “Nemo dat (quod) non habet,” which he said translates to “the state cannot give what it does not have.”

Brown, who spent his first six months in office wooing Republicans — in vain — on his plan to extend sales, income and vehicle taxes, will now take his case directly to voters. Last week, he launched a tax initiative for the November elections to raise $7 billion for schools, quickly tipping his strategic hand: He intends to assume the $7 billion in his 2012-13 budget, but will include a provision that would trigger automatic cuts to revoke the spending plans.

Brown hopes the trigger will provide voters with a stark question: To avoid new taxes, would they be willing to take $7 billion away from schools?

“Having the trigger cut at least shows what the alternatives are,” Brown said. “Do you want $12 or $13 billion in cuts in the January budget? I don’t think people want that. They should have a chance to vote on it.”

Republicans said Brown shouldn’t ask voters to increase taxes, though 60 percent of likely voters said they back his tax initiative in a Public Policy Institute of California survey this week.

“The problem continues to be overspending, with an increase of 12 percent for this year’s budget,” said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Redding. “The fact that revenues have increased over the past year, yet spending outpaces those revenues, argues for more spending control, not a massive tax increase like the governor announced last week.”

Brown and fellow Democrats in the Legislature had hoped for a $4 billion increase in tax revenue through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The budget they passed last summer without Republican support was based on those rosy revenue projections, a variety of spending cuts and fee hikes.

Brown defended his decision to assume the new revenues, saying it meant that teachers were not unnecessarily laid off because the cuts were less than they could have been.

“By and large, it was much wiser to assume the $4 billion than to make $4 billion in cuts,” Brown said.

Still, he said that he plans on proposing less in K-12 spending in the 2012-13 budget than what schools will be expecting.

Some Democrats have said they plan to push for new taxes in January to offset the trigger cuts. But they’re unlikely to be successful because they would need GOP votes to reach the two-thirds vote threshold for new taxes — and Republicans have resisted any new taxes.

Brown said he had no expectations he can reach agreement on taxes with Republicans.

“Realistically, I haven’t heard (any Republican) say ‘I’m likely to vote for taxes,'” Brown said. “They ask to get the tax is so high that we’ll lose on the other side. So, the path forward that I’ve charted is the only way.”

Staff writers Karen de Sa, Theresa Harrington, Sharon Noguchi and Katy Murphy contribute to this story. Contact Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101. Follow him at Read the Political Blotter at

Trigger cuts

K-12 schools: $327.6 million
Community colleges: $102 million
In-Home Supportive Services: $101.5 million
California State University: $100 million
University of California: $100 million
Department of Developmental Services: $100 million
Juvenile justice: $67.7 million
Child care: $23 million
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: $20 million
Grants to local libraries: $15.9 million
MediCal: $8.6 million
Prosecution grants: $14.5 million
Total: $980.8 million

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