Governor-elect Brown at UCLA budget summit: There will be cuts

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block welcomed California Governor-elect Jerry Brown to campus for a tough-talking education budget summit, where Brown promised to protect schools but said cuts are nevertheless unavoidable.
 
"We will do everything we can to minimize cuts to public schools," Brown told about 200 school officials and education leaders in Ackerman Union. "I can't promise you there won't be more cuts because there will be."
 
The recession has created a state budget problem even more dire than during the Great Depression, Brown continued.
 
"We have a $28 billion deficit," he said. "We're at an unprecedented moment of reckoning. This perfect storm is, I think, the worst it's ever been, because we're not in quite the same position as the Depression. Government played a much smaller role in the life of our communities than it plays today. Now when we get this level of deficit, it has a much more drastic impact."
 
When a member of United Teachers Los Angeles, a local union, asked if teachers should prepare for any cuts this school year, she received a mixed answer from the state officials sharing the stage with Brown. Ana Matosantos, director of the state Department of Finance, noted that any cuts would be a policy call, but said that none are expected before June 2011.
 
State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who dubbed himself the "town grouch" for his dire warnings, cautioned that Sacramento budget solutions "are largely from the tooth fairy." "You still have a multi-billion-dollar hole … you can't keep ducking this," he chastised. "It's time to make cuts, deep cuts. I'd do 25 percent across the board."
 
UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh praised the officials for laying out the facts.
 
"It's sobering," Waugh said, but called it too soon to know what to make of Matosantos' and Lockyer's comments. "We'll know on Jan. 10, when the budget comes out."
 
With graphs and pie charts, Brown attempted to bring the audience up to speed on the budget numbers that California faces. About 40 percent of the state's general fund pays for education, including $5.4 billion for the UC and CSU systems. To fill the $28 billion budget gap, some money will have to come from education, he said. One-time tricks — "non-solution solutions" — have left the state with a recurring budget gap of about $20 billion. Growing costs for state pension systems, unemployment, loans and health care reform will only widen the gap, Brown said.
 
"I thought long and hard before I ran for this job — I didn't quite know it was this bad," he said. "We've been living in a fantasy world. It's much worse than I thought."
 
About 60 percent of Californians don't want the state to cut education funding, but a similar percentage don't want their taxes raised either, Brown said. At the same time, California schools already cope with less than schools in other states, Matosantos showed in a presentation: California ranks 15th nationally in taxes and fees; has the fourth-lowest number of state employees per capita; has the worst student-to-librarian ratio and the 49th-worst student-teacher ratio in the country; and ranks 43rd in spending per student.
 
"The state has been brought to its knees by the recession," said State Controller John Chiang. He criticized the legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for failing to pass realistic, on-time budgets and praised universities like UCLA for working with him when unbalanced budgets resulted in IOUs and delayed payments.
 
"College students were not receiving Cal Grants," Chiang said. "You stood up and said you would not dis-enroll a single student. They shouldn't bear the price when elected officials don't provide for a balanced budget."
 
Nevertheless, state funding for higher education has declined over the years, said State Superintendent-elect of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
 
"We have seen huge impacts on our campuses in terms of cost increases," Torlakson said. "Fees at the CSUs have gone up about 65 percent; at UCs, about 45 percent."
 
School board members, district superintendents and other education leaders in the audience called on Brown to have the courage to protect education, but Brown noted that "some cuts are easier to make than others." Federal receivership of the state prison system has increased the amount of money the state must budget for inmates, he said. "It's not an equal table because some people have protections," he said. "It's very hard to compare apples, oranges and school books."
 
He promised to cut the governor's office budget by 25 percent to set an example, and expressed amazement at how much  staff the office had gained since he left the position in 1983 after serving two terms.
 
"Those who are the most privileged really have to take the lead," he said. "Remember, we're not poor. We're one of the wealthiest places on the whole planet, so the question is, how do we as a democratic society not just say, 'Me, me,' and 'I want, I want'? We have to work it out."
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