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Brown wants to complete budget in 60 days, predicts cuts to education [Updated]

December 14, 2010 |  2:38 pm

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown said Tuesday that he wants to complete a budget agreement within two months, an accelerated timeline that would allow a late-spring special election for potential tax increases or other revenue generation.

“I’m going to try to get the budget agreements done within about 60 days. I don’t think we have a lot of time to waste,” he said.

It's unclear whether the 60 days begins now, when he takes office on Jan. 3 or when he unveils his budget. Brown made the remark during a budget forum in Los Angeles, but he demurred when asked by reporters after the forum whether his proposal would contain only spending cuts or whether it would include new taxes.

“We’ll present a budget on Jan. 10. It will be a very tough budget but it will be transparent,” Brown told reporters after hosting a forum about the state’s budget crises. “We’ll lay it out as best I can. We’ve been living in fantasy land. It is much worse than I thought. I’m shocked.”

Brown laid out the timeline during his second budget forum, which was focused on education. Brown and other state officials painted a bleak picture for educators, saying that despite his view that education is a pillar of civilized society, the state’s deep fiscal problems and $28-billion budget gap means there will be more reductions in California’s classrooms.

“This is a really a huge challenge, unprecedented in my lifetime,” Brown told hundreds of educators, union representatives and parents who had gathered at UCLA. “I can’t promise you there won’t be more cuts because there will be.”

California’s K-12 system has been battered by billions of dollars of cuts in recent years, resulting in widespread teacher layoffs, the overcrowding of the classroom, the shortening of the school year and the elimination of many courses and extracurricular programs. Community colleges have eliminated courses and are turning students away. Students in the UC and Cal State systems have seen sharp fee increases.

“These last three years have been terrible,” said Tom Torlakson, the incoming state superintendent of public instruction.

Under the financial picture painted by Brown and other state officials, these conditions are likely to get worse. The state is facing a $28-billion budget gap for the next 18 months, and $20-billion deficits through the 2015-16 fiscal year. With education making up roughly 40% of state funding, much of these cuts will likely come from the state’s schools.

Educators responded by calling for an end to cuts, asking for greater discretion at the local level for how they spend their dwindling dollars, urging the state to seek more federal funding, and for the passage of legislation that would allow them to pass parcel taxes with 55% of the vote rather than the current requirement of two-thirds.

“We can’t take any more cuts. You really need to [look] elsewhere,” said Bernie Rhinerson, the chief district relations officer at the San Diego Unified School District. “We are at the cliff.”

Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who referred to himself as the "town grouch," grew visibly frustrated by some of the comments about increasing funding on programs such as online education, given the gravity of the state’s financial hole.

“Anyone who thinks we get by that without everyone getting hit probably should live in Mendocino County,” he said. “There are going to be cuts.”

“So far, I’ve heard good ideas about how to spend more money. Great. It ain’t there. It’s time to make cuts, I believe deep cuts,” Lockyer said. “I’d do 25% across the board. Those who wanted less government, you’re going to get your wish. In other communities that are willing to put something on the ballot to make up that difference, they’re going to have a higher service level.”

Educators appeared shaken by Lockyer’s remarks.

“There is no more meat on this bone to carve, the only thing left is amputation,” said David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Assn. “If we do what Mr. Grinch wants us to do, the possibility of shutting down schools is a reality. Is that really what we want to do?”

[Updated, 5:53 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said Lockyer referred to himself as the Grinch. Lockyer referred to himself as the "town grouch." Sanchez referred to Lockyer as "Mr. Grinch."]

Lockyer later clarified that he had not been making a policy recommendation, but rather an analysis of what will happen unless voters are educated about the need for increased spending.

-- Seema Mehta in Los Angeles

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