Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - January 14, 2011

New state budget: a hard dose of reality

At last, a governor tackles the core issue of our time: balancing cuts with extended tax revenues to get state out of a deep hole

California's beleaguered social network and system of higher education — beset by years of slashed budgets — are about to get whacked again by Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget, released this week. It is a dose of hard, necessary reality.

Brown's proposal is to cut $12.5 billion from state programs and raise $12 billion in new revenues by continuing taxes due to expire.

It is a Draconian budget made necessary by years of over-spending in the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, and before, and the Great Recession that started in 2001.

There will be much pain in the implementation of the state's $84.6 billion general fund budget, with jobs lost and full programs cut that provide all types of social and other services. State workers not covered by collective-bargaining contracts will face up to 10 percent cuts in take-home salaries.

Those individual hardships will be vastly overshadowed by cuts of $1.7 billion to Medi-Cal, $1.5 billion to welfare-to-work, and $750 million to developmental services.

Yet the hardest-to-bear impacts in the long term are in the field of education, which comprises roughly half the state's general-fund budget. The state colleges and university systems will get hit with $500 million each in cuts, further undermining California's already slashed educational system.

Lower grades will be spared for now, funded at last year's levels — but that is contingent on voter approval of higher taxes in a special election this spring.

But in between are the two-year community colleges scattered throughout the state, serving students of all types, from recent high-school graduates — some aiming for jobs and some for higher education — to adults seeking career retraining during desperate economic times.

As a kind of microcosm for higher-education statewide, the magnitude of the cuts has begun to hit home at the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. Chancellor Linda Thor reports that of the $400 million cut faced by community colleges, Foothill-De Anza's share appears to be about $10.5 million on an annual budget of $180 million.

That is on top of $20 million in cuts made in the past two years.

That translates to being able to serve about 4,400 fewer students, nearly 10 percent of the current 45,000. Fees would rise from $780 to $1,080.

It could get worse, she said. If voters fail to approve tax extensions this spring community colleges could face a "devastating" additional $500 million in cuts

State Sen. Joe Simitian says Brown at last has presented "a serious grown-up budget proposal of the kind we haven't seen for seven years" under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Simitian has long had a mantra about what to do about the state budget deficit: "Spend less; collect more; do it now." Good advice. Both Democrats and Republicans now must do some growing up to solve our state's financial mess.

Holiday Fund tops $4 million — in home stretch for giving

The Palo Alto Weekly's annual Holiday Fund this year has topped the $4 million mark of grants to local organizations providing services to our greatest community resource: children and their families.

The fund, now in its 17th year, combines direct donations, matching grants from local foundations and revenues from the annual Moonlight Run to raise up to a quarter million dollars. Virtually all funds go to local programs benefiting children and their families, with some college scholarships. The annual grants are selected by Weekly employees, who share in the pride of the annual fund.

We are also proud of our longstanding relationships with the Packard and Hewlett foundations, which last year gave $32,000 and $25,000 respectively, and to the Peery and Arrillaga family foundations, which gave $10,000 each. Donations are handled through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The Weekly absorbs all fundraising costs, so 100 percent of every donation goes back into the community. Seldom has there been a time in recent history when such community-based, community-building support is needed more.

The campaign continues through January: Please join us by checking out our website at www.PaloAltoOnline.com.

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