The "draconian" state budget proposed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown is the "good news" version, State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, told a crowd of educators Saturday.
That budget -- cutting sharply into higher education but leaving K-12 unscathed -- entirely depends on voter approval of a five-year extension of taxes that are set to expire this year.
If the June measure fails, schools face the "really scary" prospect of immediate cuts amounting to $800 per student, Simitian said.
Simitian spoke to about 180 school board members, administrators and others who packed the board room of Palo Alto school district headquarters. The former Palo Alto school board member, now a member of the Senate Education Committee, holds semi-annual "education updates" that draw constituents from Capitola to San Carlos.
The governor currently is seeking the handful of Republican votes needed for a two-thirds majority to place the tax extensions on the June ballot, Simitian said.
"The vast majority (of Republicans) have signed a 'no-tax pledge,' and they're quite clear that to them that means not letting the public vote on revenue measures or even an extension of existing taxes," he said.
"So it will be a struggle to get even two-thirds in the Assembly and Senate to sign on, and that's going to be essential."
The June measure sought by Brown would extend for five years a February 2009 bump in the state sales tax, a partial restoration of the Vehicle License Fee level and a surcharge on income tax. All three are set to expire July 1.
To get business on board for the extension, Democrats are posing the threat of a split roll property tax or a California oil-severance tax if the June measure fails.
"As I talk to business leaders, one of the points I've made to them as we ask for their support on this June ballot measure to continue this broad-based system of generating revenue is, if it fails, efforts for a split roll will be coming their way very quickly," he said.
Proposition 13 remains the untouchable "third rail" of California politics, Simitian told the education-friendly crowd.
"Even a relatively modest proposal -- for a 55 percent parcel-tax threshold to let local voters decide how to spend their own local taxes -- generates a two-page ad in the Sacramento Bee that calls it an assault on Proposition 13," he said.
"So wholesale reform is not likely in the immediate future."
Simitian said educators should contact GOP legislators to urge them to place the tax-extension on the June ballot, and to be active in the June campaign "to help people understand the magnitude of cuts absent this additional revenue."
In a rough outline of the state's $86.5 general fund budget, Simitian said 40 percent goes for K-14 education (including community colleges); 10 percent for higher education; 30 percent for health and welfare, 10 percent for prisons and the final 10 percent for "other."
The governor, as well as the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst, have said the state faces a $24.5 billion shortfall in the period between now and July 2012.
Brown has proposed a package of $12.5 billion in cuts; $12 billion in additional revenue, which includes the June tax extension as well as some inter-fund borrowing.
"These numbers will change day to day, week to week, but that's the rough outline," Simitian said.