Tonight the state legislature is passing a budget, bit by bit, acting on 30 bills detailing spending cuts, fee increases and accounting gimmicks to close the state’s $26.3 billion budget deficit for fiscal 2009-10. At the moment it’s not clear whether all of the bills will pass with the required two-thirds majority; anything that falls short will force the Big Five to go back to the negotiating table. (At this point I can’t resist sourly pointing out that the legislature has not seen fit to make itself subject to the Brown Act — the open meeting law that our Board and all other legislative bodies in the state must observe. If we tried to do business with a tiny minority of the Board negotiating in secret . . . well, you can imagine the uproar.)
Anyway. I’ve been asking some questions of our staff on the issue of how $2.6 billion in cuts to K-12 education and an additional $1.7 billion in deferrals will affect our district budget. As a very rough yardstick, every billion dollars in unrestricted funding (also called our “revenue limit” funding) adds up to about $160 per student. So, the proposed cuts add up to about $430 per student plus an additional $270 per student deferred to later years — in all, an alarming $700 per student. But I’m told that we have been reasonably accurate with our assumptions and so, while cuts of this magnitude are painful and alarming, we have anticipated them and planned accordingly. Also, it’s inside baseball, but because the state did not enact a revised 2008-09 budget before the end of the fiscal year last month, the cuts we were expecting for 2008-09 did not materialize, giving us more cash on paper than anticipated going into 2009-10 and allowing us to absorb more cuts for the current fiscal year. And, it bears mentioning again, we have been bailed out for the second straight year by a share of the City’s rainy day fund.
It also bears repeating that the 2010-11 budget will present much more difficult choices with little or no relief coming from the City. The outlook continues to be grim for the state, and while we locally have been cushioned from the worst by the foresight of the Rainy Day Fund and the generousity of the voters, that cushion is eroding fast. It also doesn’t bode well for the future that, in addition to devastating cuts to education, health care and services for the poorest and most vulnerable state residents, the legislature yet again turned to accounting gimmicks like issuing employees’ June 30 paychecks on July 1 so as to kick a chunk of the state payroll into the next fiscal year. That’s what counts as “budgeting” in today’s California.