For USC students, there might be no more important battle being waged than the one in the California legislature over this year’s state budget.
This week, negotiations broke down after Republicans presented Gov. Jerry Brown with a list of 53 new demands they say must be addressed before they will vote on whether to allow a referendum on tax increases in July.
What was originally projected to be a $26 billion budget deficit now stands at $15 billion after a combination of budget cuts, loans and transfers. Brown’s office says the remainder of the gap must be closed with tax increases to avoid deep cuts to education, public safety and other critical services.
With an exceedingly uncooperative opposition, however, it has been difficult for Brown to get anything done.
Republicans have prevented the democratically controlled government from making progress on the budget throughout the year. They voted down proposals to cut welfare grants and end local redevelopment agencies — both longstanding conservative goals that would have helped narrow the budget gap — apparently for no other reason than they were supported by Democrats.
Now, three months after the budget process had started, the Republicans’ 53 demands demonstrate more forcefully than ever the incompetence of Republicans in California’s government. Reportedly, Republicans are insisting Democrats restore $32 million in state subsidies for county fairs, change the date of California’s presidential primary and agree not to pursue any changes to the state’s tort laws or civil service code.
Brown wants a referendum in July to allow Californians to vote on a package of tax increases — 0.25 percent on personal income taxes, 1 percent on sales taxes, 0.5 percent on auto registrations — which, along with a $210 decrease in the child tax credit, would be projected to close the deficit. The referendum is key, as Brown promised during his campaign he would not raise taxes without voters’ approval.
Republicans are now holding up that referendum with their list of silly demands. The absurdity and irrelevance of these demands has led the top Senate Democrat, Darrell Steinberg, to tell reporters, “It’s time for this to end. I am ready to pull the plug.”
An end to negotiations between the two parties can’t lead to anything good for Californians. Brown could try to launch the referendum without Republican support, but it could be declared unconstitutional by the courts. Either dramatic cuts to crucial state services or a partial shutdown of the government when it runs out of cash in the summer would be more likely.
Either of these scenarios would likely lead to lay offs of teachers, shorter school years, more unpaid furloughs for state workers, cuts to police and correctional services and reductions in state support for the elderly, infirm and the poor.
Furthermore, allowing the government to run out of cash would lead to the further deterioration of California’s financial position. We already have the lowest credit rating of any state. Another summer of late payments might make it impossible for California to raise more money when it is needed in the future.
That California Republicans would risk, and even embrace, such an outcome in the name of partisan politics is shameful, and USC students should be up in arms about it.
It is true that, at a time of economic difficulty, it is often better to cut government spending than to raise taxes in order to close a deficit.
California, however, is at the point now where more spending cuts would affect not only the daily lives of our most vulnerable citizens — children, the poor, the sick and the elderly — but would also erode the human capital that is the state’s primary asset. Republican posturing risks creating a generation of under-educated Californians, which is the outcome we need to guard against most carefully.
Daniel Charnoff is a senior majoring in international relations (global business). His column, “Through the Static,” runs Fridays.