Simitian to keep environmental chairmanship

But he will lose his membership on a key budget subcommittee for taking an independent stance on school budget cuts

State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) will keep his chairmanship of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee but will lose his seat on the Budget Subcommittee on Educational Finance under an exercise of party discipline for taking an independent stance on massive school budget cuts.

Simitian's position is that state officials should avoid suspending Prop. 98, the 1988 voter-approved minimum-funding guarantee for education, by using $1.5 billion in funds in unspent accounts to reduce this years general fund expenditures on education -- the basis for next year's Prop. 98 guarantee.

But when he proposed an amendment to allow flexibility in how funds were spent at a Senate committee meeting, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata stripped Simitian of his committee chairmanship. Perata apparently reconsidered following discussions with Simitian within the last week. The change had not yet been ratified by the Senate Rules Committee, although the vacancy was listed briefly on a daily journal for the Senate.

"It was my choice to speak my mind," Simitian told the Weekly late Friday about his position at the meeting.

"Choices have consequences. I understand that. I said what I said because I'm trying to avoid a Proposition 98 suspension. It's just that simple," he said.

Perata's office has said that he never comments on committee assignments. But a longstanding tradition in both parties in Sacramento is to use committee assignments, office allocations and even staff budgets of legislators to enforce party discipline on legislative matters.

School districts statewide face more than $4 billion in budget cuts as part of a budget reduction that has grown to $16 billion, adjusted upward last week from an earlier estimate of $14.5 billion. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed suspending Proposition 98 guarantees in order to achieve the $4 billion-plus cuts in education.

Palo Alto schools could lose nearly $1 million next year in an already tight budget, school officials have said. Other districts face similar cuts.

But Simitian, as reported earlier (Weekly, Jan. 30), has warned school officials and parents that suspending Proposition 98 twice in four years would create a dangerous precedent and leave the guarantee vulnerable to future suspension, even though doing so takes two-thirds approval in the Senate.

By using unspent or reserve funds from various accounts to cut the general fund expenditure (and next year's level of guaranteed funding), Simitian believes suspending Proposition 98 could be avoided.

But many school-district officials and education leaders are concerned that reducing the guarantee in that way would lower future funding levels.

Schools will face a major wallop in any event, Simitian warned local educators in late January when he asked what part of bad did they not understand.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ken
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 23, 2008 at 9:22 pm

Hallelujah!!! Best news ever. Simitian is gold. Shame on Perata.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by nanny joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2008 at 9:45 pm

too bad, nanny joe needs to be slapped down.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Mom
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 26, 2008 at 7:15 pm

Why is it good news that Simitian's position on the educational finance subcommittee is being stripped? (This seems to me like a badly misleading article header.) Joe Simitian has a great grasp of educational finance and a solid commitment to schoolchildren state-wide. I can only assume that Perata is so keen to give Arnold enough rope to kill himself -- piling up the pain -- that he's perfectly willing to tolerate any pain to California school-children. For shame.

I've written three East Bay friends asking them to protest to Perata directly (his district includes Berkeley, Alameda, etc.).

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