Brown budget plan relies equally on broad cuts and tax extension

Gov. Jerry Brown points to a chart as he speaks to reporters during the announcement of his proposed budget at the California State Capitol on Jan. 10, 2011 in Sacramento.
Gov. Jerry Brown points to a chart as he speaks to reporters during the announcement of his proposed budget at the California State Capitol on Jan. 10, 2011 in Sacramento.
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After weeks of hinting about what he’d propose, Gov. Jerry Brown released his budget plan Monday morning in Sacramento. The governor’s proposal seeks to close the state’s $26 billion budget shortfall with cuts and taxes in equal measure – but KPCC’s Julie Small reports it only works if voters give it a thumbs-up.

Brown says he’ll plug California’s budget deficit with $12 billion in cuts to state services — and $12 billion in additional revenue. Brown says he’ll start with the cuts to all sectors of state government.

“Where the money goes is where the money has to be cut,” says Brown. “It’s just that simple. And government does a number of important things — whether it’s helping the most vulnerable, or whether it’s educating people at the university, or whether it’s incarcerating dangerous people. It does all that so whenever you cut you have to cut some of those things.”

Brown wants to cut healthcare assistance for low-income Californians, eliminate state funded childcare for children more than 10-years-old and reduce in-home support services for the elderly and disabled. Brown will shave $1 billion from public universities, shut state parks with the lowest attendance and eliminate support for public libraries. Brown says the cuts are necessary.

“When we roll back things, good things get rolled back,” he says.

But Brown hopes to avoid even more rollbacks by asking voters to extend a collection of recent tax increases for five years. That part of the governor’s plan would generate an estimated $12 billion. Republican leaders commend Brown’s budget cuts but say they oppose placing a tax increase on the ballot.

“I understand the governor wanting to take it to the voters, but they’ve got to get the Republican votes, the two-thirds votes, to get it out of here. We’ve got to put our votes up first,” says Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), vice chairman of the budget committee.

He doubts Brown will convince Republicans in the legislature to place a tax proposal on the ballot.

“If he gets it to the ballot in some miraculous way, then the voters will judge,” says Nielsen. “And I expect they will say ‘no’.”

Voters said “no” to a tax increases two years ago that would have helped plug the state deficit. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) says Brown’s tax proposal stands a better chance.

“Because it contains essential reform which is bringing government closer to the people,” says Steinberg.

Brown would send the tax revenue by the extensions to local governments so they can take over some services now run by the state. He says locals can, for example, provide foster care or jail beds for low-level prisoners better than the state can — and for less money, too. Steinberg says Brown has the momentum to pull off the plan.

“We have a new governor and I think the people expect this new governor to put this crisis behind the people of California sooner rather than later,” he says.

The governor has asked the legislature to enact his budget cuts by March. That’s about the time he’d call a special election to put his tax proposal before California voters.