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Brown budget proposal offers tough choices

January 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
More fallout Friday from Governor Jerry Brown's new state budget proposal: His plan cuts funding to programs and requires voters to choose between some higher taxes and cuts to education.

This November, California voters will have to decide which kind of state budget they want: One with higher taxes to save schools from further cuts, or one that keeps taxes the same, but at the expense of schools.

Governor Brown built another round of potential trigger cuts into the state budget. This time nearly $5.5 billion if voters don't approve his sales-tax hike and income-tax surcharge on high-wage earners.

The reductions would hurt schools the hardest: $4.8 billion less, which is equivalent to shortening the school year by three weeks.

"A student entering first grade this year, by the time that student graduates with three fewer weeks each and every year in accumulation, it would be the equivalent to one fewer year in that student's entire educational life," said Jack O'Connell, former state superintendent of schools.

University of California and California State University systems would each be slashed another $200 million.

Cal-Fire would have to cut back 10 percent, which means grounding some of the aircraft and closing some fire stations.

All 600 seasonal lifeguards would lose their jobs and a fifth of the state park rangers would be laid off.

Anti-tax groups call Brown's proposal extortion.

"It's certainly is political extortion because he's basically saying 'I'm going to really cut essential services unless you pass this tax,'" said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

California resident Mary Johnson feels like she's being coerced. She'll vote for the tax hikes to avoid increasing California's unemployment rate.

"I think it's just terrible. Even though I'm disabled, and I'm not working right now, I would rather pay the taxes than see people laid off," said Johnson, who supports a tax hike.

Many in the education community don't look at the potential cuts as threats, saying the governor really has no choice but to be straight with voters.

"Laying out a very clear picture about what those choices are and what the consequences will be if that revenue doesn't come to fruition is what they actually have to know. It's about being honest with voters, really," said public schools advocate Kevin Gordon.

Brown's campaign adviser expects to get approval from the attorney general's office by the end of the month to begin gathering signatures to get the tax hikes on the November ballot.