It’s time to hold your nose and take a hard swallow. As Governor Jerry Brown disclosed the latest revised budget for the state, he said it’s time for Californians to take their medicine. The projected budget deficit has hit almost $16 billion, far greater than officials anticipated just five months ago.
That'll mean some "painful cuts" for the state's higher education institutions.
That is unless voters pass a tax initiative intended to maintain the state’s public school budget at its present level. That still keeps California’s higher education spending well below Kentucky’s, Mississippi’s, and West Virginia’s.
If the tax ballot measure fails, the University of California and California State systems would each receive $250 million less than they did this year. That’s $50 million more in cuts than projected back in January.
Lars Walton, a vice chancellor at UC Irvine, said the cuts project a bleak future ahead for the UC system alongside with administrative cuts it’s already made.
"We’ve laid off, system wide, 4,400 employees," says Walton. "Eliminated close to 4,000 positions, deferred academic hiring, cut academic programs, and certainly that has pulled back the university as far as we can go. So there’s little that we can do anymore in terms of wiggle room on the edges."
The Cal State system also operates on the fiscal edge. At Cal State Long Beach, the school faces a deficit of about $34 million according to President King Alexander.
"That’s equivalent to us basically closing the entire College of Business and the entire College of Engineering," he said.
In preparation for more reductions, Alexander said all 23 Cal State campuses have already closed enrollment for the Spring 2013 semester. That means Cal state schools won’t admit any transfer students mid-year. The system’s also considering waitlisting the entire incoming class for the 2013 Fall semester.
The situation is just as dire at community colleges. Jonathan Lightman is executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges. He hopes that the potential consequences of state budget cuts will move voters in November.
"We have a choice. Do we fund education or do we prefer ignorance?" he asked. "And that’s really what our choice is. But if we we’re going to fund education, let’s be serious aobut it." Lightman said that means that the voters have to decide that raising taxes is the lesser of two evils.
When a reporter asked whether he’s playing a game of chicken with voters over the public education budget, Governor Brown insisted that there’s no other solution.
"And I am now the oldest governor in America, so I can tell you, I know what the hell I am talking about."
Pounding on a lecturn, he added, "This is it!"
Brown said he trusts that voters will not abandon the state’s future and pass the tax initiative — the only lifeline they’ve got.