Reality Catches Up With California’s Optimistic Budget

By: - December 12, 2011 12:00 am

The failure of the congressional “Super Committee” means automatic budget cuts could trim federal spending in 2013, but California is bracing for its own version of the budget “trigger” by the end of this week.

State finance officials will deliver a budget forecast for the remaining six months of the fiscal year this week, and Governor Jerry Brown’s office is already preparing the public for bad news. If the forecast shows that California’s revenues are not meeting expectations, as is likely, Brown will be forced to announce automatic budget cuts that could total as much as $2.5 billion.

The huge mid-year cuts are the result of an optimistic budget that Brown and the state legislature agreed to in June. The spending plan was built on the assumption that California’s economic recovery would be strong, driving state revenues upward; instead, the European debt crisis, high unemployment and other factors have saddled California with a budget it cannot afford.

As The Sacramento Bee explains , the automatic cuts were written into this year’s budget and could affect many areas of state spending, including significant cuts to higher education and the state correctional system. The Bee notes that the reductions are based on two “tiers,” with some cuts triggered if revenues are behind expectations by $1 billion and other cuts triggered if revenues are behind by $2 billion.

The cuts in the second category are the most politically controversial, led by the possibility of the K-12 school year being shortened by seven days in order to save $1.5 billion.

As is the case in Washington, D.C., many advocates for low-income residents and others likely to be hit by the budget cuts are calling on lawmakers to suspend the automatic “trigger,” but legislative leaders have shown little inclination to do so. “I have no great expectation we’re going to be able to fundamentally revisit the trigger issue,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg tells The Bee .

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