Brown promises equity in budget cuts, but day of reckoning’ has arrived

LOS ANGELES - Despite painting a bleak outlook for school funding next year, Governor-elect Jerry Brown pledged Tuesday to take an even-handed look at what areas can best afford to be cut in the upcoming budget debate.

In a second public briefing Brown has held in advance of taking office next month, state fiscal officers continued to frame California's problems as deep and complex and that solving them will require a serious, long-term plan.

I know there are some people who can take cuts a heck of a lot easier than others," Brown told the audience of several hundred educators, state officials and representatives of local districts at the briefing held on campus at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"But there are limits - limits in inequality and the harmony and the cohesion - that's what both troubles and challenges me because I know we are embarking on a very uncertain period," Brown said.

Brown said that he wanted to have his budget completed by mid-December and strike a deal with the Legislature within 60 days - a lofty goal, to say the least, given the ideological divide in Sacramento.

"Please sit down when you read stories on the budget on January 10," Brown warned. "Don't stand up. Just sit down. If you're in a car, fasten your seat belt, because it's going to be a rough ride, but we'll get through it."

Although the incoming governor was once again careful not to suggest how he might tackle the state's yawning $28 billion shortfall, handouts delivered by his staff to attendees at the event acknowledged the funding dilemma when it comes to schools:

- California ranks 43rd nationally in K-12 per student expenditures, but second in average teacher salaries.

- California has the sixth lowest number of government employees per 10,000 residents, but pupil-staff ratios are among highest in the nation.

Brown also said he would not support budget gimmicks and warned that a day of reckoning' had come. That said, the governor's incoming finance director, Ana Matosantos, said that the focus so far is on closing the gap for the 2011-12 fiscal year and that they were not anticipating mid-year reductions on schools.

Such reassurance, however, was immediately challenged by state Treasurer Bill Lockyer who called himself the town grouch' and suggested it would be a mistake for the governor and Legislature to wait until July to impose new spending solutions.

"You still have a multiple-billion dollar hole that needs to be addressed between now and July first," Lockyer said. "Anyone who thinks we are going to get by that, without everyone getting hit, probably should live in Mendocino County - or even Sacramento where budget solutions are from the tooth fairy."

A number of superintendents argued during the question and answer period for support from the governor to drop the voting requirements for passing a parcel tax to 55 percent of voters.

Still the message that education had taken the brunt of the spending cuts over the past three years was repeated again and again. Brown seemed to be sympathetic but at the same time warned that he would not back away from tough decisions.

"I'm going to be the person that tells you the way it is, and I'll try to be as eloquent, as accurate, and as honest as I can in bringing people together."

He added at another point: "The question is, how do we as a Democratic society not just say, me me, I want, I want.' We have to work it out. And that's what politics is," he said."

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