Brown’s bloody budget

Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revision leaves blood all over the Capitol walls. The era when California governors could make their cuts with a scalpel ended before Brown took office, so he does his trimming with a chain saw. The results are cuts in Medi-Cal payments to hospitals and nursing homes, cuts to those who care for the disabled, cuts to state courts and cuts in hours and pay for state employees. So far schools have been largely spared from this grisly exercise, but that will probably change in November if voters fail to approve a tax-hike initiative.

It’s tough to endorse a budget proposal such as Brown’s because it’s so dishearteningly ugly. We had misgivings about his January version because of its severe trimming of the state’s social welfare network, especially when it comes to caring for the elderly and disabled. Now the projected shortfall has nearly doubled to $16 billion from $9.2 billion, thanks to lower-than-expected tax revenue and other problems, and Brown’s revised budget hits this population even harder. Construction on needed courthouses, meanwhile, will be stalled and a struggling court system will be even more underfunded. And although few Californians have much sympathy for state workers, they are struggling to fill the gaps in agencies that are experiencing layoffs and, if Brown gets his way, will be rewarded for their extra work with a 5% pay cut.

Despite his efforts to protect them, even California’s schools are severely threatened. Brown’s proposed budget presumes that voters will approve the tax-hike initiative he’s backing in November, which would increase the state sales tax by a quarter of a percent and raise income taxes on the wealthy. These taxes would generate an estimated $8.5 billion through the end of the budget year, and voters would blow another gaping hole in the budget if they reject them.

Brown addresses this possibility by including “trigger” cuts in his budget proposal that would reduce funding for schools and community colleges by a whopping $5.5 billion and higher education by $500 million, while cutting game wardens, park rangers, lifeguards and other popular positions and services. Those are political decisions — Brown may be maximizing the suggested damage to schools as a way of persuading voters to approve his tax proposal. Yet whether the Legislature goes along with Brown’s triggers or not, it’s highly unlikely that schools would be untouched if the tax hikes fail because there are few nonessential services left to cut.

Californians need to stop the bleeding.