The stakes have risen: When hopes for tax extensions in a June special election died, the projected deficit for California community colleges doubled
By Brant Ozanich
Students at City College and community colleges across California fear increased financial pressure after attempts by Gov. Jerry Brown to implement tax extensions in a special election were blocked by Republican members of the state legislature.
Under Brown’s new “all-cuts” budget proposal, California’s 112 community colleges could be facing additional cuts of $800 million or more – roughly 10 percent of their overall budget – which could lead to an additional 400,000 students being turned down in the future.
“Today, I have broken off discussions with members of the Republican party … I proposed a plan that is basically half drastic cuts and half temporary tax extensions,” Brown said in a YouTube address March 29. “I’m gonna find a way to get out budget balanced … We have to protect our schools, our public safety, our public universities, our environment.”
Facing a $26.6 billion budget deficit, Brown proposed to balance the budget by cutting roughly $11.2 billion in spending and attempting to implement a voter-approved, 5 year continuation of selected sales, income and corporate taxes that could help close the remaining $15.4 billion gap.
When Brown released his first budget plan in January, he proposed a $400 million cut to the California Community College system, but after continued resistance from GOP legislators he has been forced to come up with a plan that places more emphasis on cuts rather than extending existing taxes.
The tax proposal has full support from democrats, but failed to receive four republican votes to meet the two-thirds approval it needs in order to be placed on a special ballot in June.
“We’ll keep doing our job, we’ll keep speaking up, we’ll keep giving them our suggestions, our thoughts and our ideas. Do we have the ability to force them to accept them or deal with them if they don’t want to? No, we don’t,” Senate Republican Leader Robert Dutton said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re irrelevant. We’re only irrelevant if we fail to bring up thoughts and ideas.”
Brown is encouraging a voter initiative as an alternative, which would require roughly 500,000 signatures and not warrant a special election this summer, like he had hoped to gain through legislative bargaining.
Brown would only have about one month to collect the signatures in order to get the initiative on the November ballot, and the tax extensions wouldn’t take effect until four months into next fiscal year.
“Without a June special election on Gov. Brown’s tax extension proposal, the chance of an all-cuts budget is highly likely,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said in a media briefing. “An $800 million reduction would be unprecedented and an absolute tragedy for our students, faculty and staff as well as a deep blow for our economy.”
In addition to the proposed cuts in funding, the state is increasing per unit fees to $36 for community college students.
The bill, passed on March 24 increases fees $10 per unit, from $26, and will go into effect Fall 2011, raising $110 million for the community college system, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office speculates.
They have also recommended raising fees to $66, more than double what they already are, if the “all-cuts” solution is approved.
“I think the impacts of the fees are horrendous. Many of the students at community colleges will not be able to afford to go to school,” Alisa Messer, president of City College’s faculty union, said. “There’s going to be a whole generation of students that don’t get to go to college.”
The proposed $800 million cut comes on top of a $520 million cut the system took in the 2009-10 year, which resulted in 140,000 fewer students being admitted than they year before and 38,000 fewer course sections being offered.
“What we’re going to see is our bright, young students leaving the state to get their education and unfortunately they don’t always come back,” Los Rios Community College District Chancellor Brice Harris said in a press release. “California’s community colleges have been a beacon for decades and what we’re really seeing now is a slow and painful dismantling.”
Additional budget information compiled from the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, The Sacramento Bee and The Bellingham Herald.