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Deeper cuts to schools, universities possible if tax extension fails, analyst says

February 14, 2011 | 11:48 am

State lawmakers would face the possibility of having to make deeper cuts to schools, universities, courts and social services if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend tax increases fails to win approval by voters or the Legislature, a state analyst said Monday.

Even if voters this summer approve an extension of temporary tax and fee hikes, the governor has already proposed billions in cuts to state programs as part of a solution for a $25.4-billion budget shortfall.

But without the $13.5 billion proposed by the governor from tax increases and extensions, lawmakers would face "alternatives involving major reductions in service and benefit levels and dramatic changes in the way that many programs would be delivered by the state and local governments," said state Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor in a report to lawmakers.

The review was requested by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and was meant only as an illustration of the types of solutions that would be needed if taxes are not increased. The governor has said he would seek voter approval of the tax proposals this summer.

The alternative proposals outlined by Taylor would include $5.2 billion in additional cuts to K-14 education, including elimination of class-size reduction programs for kindergarten through third grade, and requiring more children to be age five before starting kindergarten, the report said.

Taylor said other alternatives include an additional $1.1-billion reduction to universities, $1.2 billion lost to health and social service programs and $2.6 billion taken from criminal justice and court budgets. Another $1.8 billion would be cut from local government and general government programs and $1.6 billion would be lost from transportation and natural resource services, under the alternative plan submitted by the Legislative Analyst Office.

"While we have recommended in recent years some variation of many of the alternatives provided in this letter, we have had to go far beyond our normal comfort level in order to meet the requested solutions target," the LAO report said.

The proposals drew skepticism from Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., which has opposed the extension of tax increases.

Coupal said there are other ways to solve the budget problem, including cuts to school administration, that would address the shortfall without affecting classrooms. "There are more alternative ways to do it,'' Coupal said.

-- Patrick McGreevy