Friday, April 8, 2011

LA Times: What State Budget Items to Cut Next?

Lawmakers consider what to cut next in budget debate

Photo: Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) asked about closing a state university to preserve the system's flagships, like UC Berkeley, above. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Cut teachers' pay by 5%. Close a public university or two. Fire the entire state workforce.

Those were among the proposals bandied about by state lawmakers in a budget hearing Thursday that at times had a touch of the surreal.

A $15 billion budget shortfall remains to be fixed, and the Senate Budget Committee hearing was the first held since talks for a referendum on taxes between Gov. Jerry Brown and Republicans collapsed late last month.

Democrats made it clear they saw this and upcoming hearings as an opportunity to rally public support for raising taxes without GOP backing. They talked about how low state spending is today by historic measures -- spending per personal income is the lowest in four decades -- and how firing every state worker would not close the gap.

Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) asked about shuttering a UC or CSU campus in the state to preserve some of the state’s flagship schools, such as UC Berkeley in her district. "Do you have a viable economy if you don't have a first-class higher education system?" she asked.

Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) asked about cutting teachers' pay by 5%, admitting the question was politically "like lighting a fuse on a rocket."

Partisan squabbling punctuated the hearing, and no consensus emerged.

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