Reporting from Sacramento -- Introducing a measure of optimism into the state’s dire fiscal situation, Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday that his 2012-13 budget would increase education funding and that the outlook for schools would remain strong — if voters pass his initiative to raise taxes.
Brown made the comments during an hourlong Capitol news conference, where he weighed in on topics such as the Occupy movement and the field of Republican presidential candidates.
The governor also lamented that he had been unable to get the four GOP votes necessary to present voters this year with his plan to extend higher sales, vehicle and income taxes.
“I did think asking voters to vote on a tax was profoundly different than raising a tax,” Brown said. “It turned out that those two notions are conflated in the Republican mind.”
California now faces a $13-billion budget deficit. But December revenues were strong enough that the state dodged automatic cuts that could have trimmed a week from the K-12 school year.
Education is the biggest item in the state budget, and the spending plan the governor will release next month assumes billions in additional revenues from passage of his tax initiative.
If the measure fails, Brown said, more drastic cuts would be needed to state programs.
The governor said that along with education, water policy would be at the top of his priority list in the new year. To that end, he said, he was open to moving a $12-billion water bond off the November 2012 ballot.
“I’m open to anything that makes sense,” Brown said. “And big bond issues are difficult at this point in time, particularly when the ballot will be crowded.”
Of the Occupy movement, Brown said that although politicians were listening to the message, protesters were having a limited effect on state or national politics.
His thoughts on the GOP presidential primary? Brown said that although he wouldn’t want to handicap the race, he thought that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was benefiting “because he’s not getting caught in the extremes and his worst sin apparently is flip-flopping — which most politicians do at some point in their life.”
Asked to grade his own first year back in the governor’s office, Brown quipped that “students don’t give themselves grades” before adding: “I think I took this semester pass/fail anyway.”
In the end, Brown said he had passed.