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Jerry Brown's plan could increase future school costs

BusinessPoliticsFinanceJerry BrownBudgets and BudgetingDarrell Steinberg

SACRAMENTO -- Even as Gov. Jerry Brown pledges to chip away at the state’s debt, his budget plan will leave California on the hook for billions more in school funding down the line.  

The situation is the result of California’s complicated web of school funding formulas and a little-understood mechanism known as the “maintenance factor.”  

Brown’s revised budget plan shows a spike in tax revenue in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and lower revenue after that.  

His administration’s estimates would allow the state to withhold some money for schools in the upcoming fiscal year and trigger the “maintenance factor,” requiring the state to make up the difference in the future.  

The governor’s budget plan would add $2.7 billion to the state’s tab, according to Brown’s Department of Finance, bringing the total amount owed to $9.6 billion by June 2014. 

Sacramento would be required to pay the money to schools in future years when the state sees strong growth in tax revenue.  

The increase in that obligation would come at a time when Brown is trying to pay down some of the state’s other debts.

For example, much of the so-called "wall of debt" involves money promised for education. During California’s budget crisis, the state delayed and reduced some payments to schools, racking up a bill estimated to be $8.8 billion by the end of June. Brown hopes to cut that to zero by June 2017.  

Central to the question about school funding is Brown’s revenue estimates. The governor’s projections for a weaker financial recovery surprised some in the Capitol this week, including Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).  

“We have a lot of questions,” he said Wednesday.

One of many Democrats who want to restore more money to the state’s safety net programs than Brown wants, Steinberg expressed skepticism about the “precipitous reduction” in the governor’s revenue estimates. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office is scheduled to release its own projections Friday.

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Twitter: @chrismegerian

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