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We need fiscal reform, not education cuts

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: May 19, 2008 8:45 p.m.
Updated: July 20, 2008 5:02 a.m.
At City Hall last Tuesday, a huge crowd joined in a rally supporting the Santa Clarita Valley Education Coalition. They were protesting Governor Schwarzenegger's estimated $4.8 billion proposed reduction in education spending. Statewide, there have been many of these public outpourings ever since the governor issued his 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts in January.

Among the group were school board trustees, teachers, students, parents, business owners, city officials, school district employees and superintendents. In Santa Clarita, politics definitely takes a backseat when it comes to resolving local problems. Granted, there was a bit of political rhetoric, but this group mainly banded together as a united front for the preservation of public education.

Folks, these funding cuts are real, and only the severity of them is in doubt. By law, school districts must give 45 days notice for those employees impacted by layoffs. The Hart District governing board voted to issue notices to forty-four classified employees at the May 7 board meeting.

Throughout the state, more than 10,000 pink slips have been distributed. Not since 2003 when Governor Davis cut $30 billion from the budget, and eliminated 20,000 teacher-related jobs has there been so much confusion and concern. We all remember what happened to Governor Davis.

Our current governor ran on a platform of promising a complete audit. He vowed to eliminate program duplications, cut waste, and get rid of costly ineffective mandates. This did not happen. If anything, he delivered a business-as-usual cursory look-see rather than a forensic audit. The notion that we must take the extreme step of handing out pink slips to teachers and staff workers prior to a systemic structural review is preposterous.

It's like the old party game called "The Blanket." Someone gets under a blanket in the middle of a circle. Each member of the circle tells the person to toss away an unneeded item. The person beneath the blanket either eventually becomes completely naked or figures out that the unneeded item is the blanket itself.

Tossing out bits and pieces of a budget without knowing the adverse ramifications is no real fix. The system of state bureaucracy itself needs a complete structural overhaul, not just a checkup. It is worth the time taken to cut costs by fiscal accountability, rather than arbitrarily initiating across-the-board cuts. Internal bleeding can't be patched with a band-aid. We need real budget reform.

Most Californians are so concerned with the slowing of the economy, the housing crunch, high gasoline prices, and the wild swings in the stock market that little attention is given to the proposals of state budget wonks. Working families are busily tightening their belts to make ends meet. As taxpayers, they have every right to expect the state to do the same. When income declines, so does spending.

The just-released May Revised budget shows that the state has $6 billion less in revenue than in January. Partisan politics makes it difficult for the state legislature to come to terms prior to their deadline. Governor Schwarzenegger, obviously a "Man for All Seasons," has changed his original proposal by politically providing something for the Democrats and something for the Republicans.

At least he has dropped his plan to immediately release thousands of dangerous felons onto the streets of California. Thankfully, he has nixed his January idea of closing 48 state parks. The governor is restoring $1.8 billion to schools, yet education overall is still being cut by more than $4 billion. He is also calling for huge cuts in welfare and in health care.

One saving grace is the $828 million that the state has gained by rising gasoline prices. This windfall will not go to repair our roads however, because the governor plans to take that money away from public transportation and reassign it into helping fix the budget gap. Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul! Didn't California voters pass a state proposition that prevented moving designated dollars away from transportation funds?

It pays to follow the money. The last time I checked, 18.4 cents on every gallon of gas goes to the feds and 18 cents goes to the state, with an additional 8 percent state sales tax on the total purchase. Liberal Democrats who constantly rant about the evil American oil companies gouging us at the pump should be reminded that Big Government makes an even larger profit.

Perhaps Governor Schwarzenegger's pièce de résistance is a $15 billion bond based on future lottery revenues. If voters fail to pass the bond, then Californians must pay an additional 1 percent sales tax. A threat by any other name is a threat, just as a tax by any other name is a tax. What a brilliant plan! The governor devises this creative budgetary gobbledygook, provides an escape clause for the state legislators, places the onus on the taxpayers, and on real reform he chickens out and punts. Rest assured, this is not a plot for The Simpsons.

The Santa Clarita Valley Education Coalition rally at City Hall may be only a portent of things to come if public education goes unfunded. People mainly move here is because it is a safe place to raise a family, and because the quality of education is superb. Almost 90 percent of high school sophomores have already passed the California High School Exit Exam.

Judy Fish, Superintendent of Saugus Union District asked the crowd at the rally, "Would you rather hear about teacher layoffs or student successes?" Slam-dunk, Ms. Fish!

Paul B. Strickland Sr. is a resident of Santa Clarita. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. "Right Here, Right Now" runs Monday in The Signal and rotates among several local Republican writers.


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