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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Which revenue picture will state lawmakers use for public schools?

State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), chairs of the Senate budget committee, wants a spending plan that will trigger increases if revenue projections are met.
State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), chairs of the Senate budget committee, wants a spending plan that will trigger increases if revenue projections are met. The San Francisco Sentinel

State lawmakers took a closer look Tuesday at Governor Jerry Brown’s revised spending plan for public schools.  One of the key questions they’re wrangling with is how much they’ll actually have to spend.

After years of budget deficits and cuts to school districts and community colleges, the state of California is sitting on a surplus.  Brown’s fiscal team estimates it’s $2.8 billion, but the legislature’s fiscal analyst thinks its closer to $6 billion.    

“We do think our revenue estimates are a better reflection of what’s going on in the financial markets right now,” said Ed Cabral of the analyst’s office. But, he cautioned, that figure isn’t bullet proof.  “So if our revenue estimates are wrong, and you build your budget according to our estimates, then there is some risk there.” 

So which estimate should lawmakers choose?  Cabral suggested they budget for both. That’s been done in recent plans by including automatic cuts to programs — triggered by a revenue shortfall.

Senator Mark Leno (D-SF), who chairs the Senate budget committee, suggested an automatic increase instead.

“We might consider using positive triggers," said Leno, "so that when the revenue is realized we could then have triggered increases.” 

Doing that could help the legislature finesse another fiscal question:  How much should be spent paying down the debt that California owes to school districts?

In leaner years the state deferred payments, wracking up $10 billion in loans.  Brown has whittled that down to $8 billion and wants to cut it to $5 billion in the next fiscal year.    

Members of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee on Education discussed making some portion of the deferrals dependent on a higher revenue projection.

The committee plans to vote on the governor’s education funding proposal on Thursday.

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