Sen. Carol Liu says California budget is 'broken,' vows to focus on schools

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) appeared Monday before the City Council and painted a bleak picture of California's finances.

In her annual State of the State talk, Liu — a former La Cañada city councilwoman — said a lack of tax revenues has led to an expected state budget shortfall of $10 billion to $12 billion for next year. She said the budget crunch will lead to cuts in services, primarily in public education.

“I know you are concerned with the drastic cuts to our public schools and local government that you have endured over the last couple of years,” she said. “And it breaks my heart, as a former school teacher … it was a hard decision to vote for these cuts.”

In recent years the state has tried to address a structural debt, meaning the state routinely spends more than it takes in, while tackling an annual budget deficit that once topped $26 billion.

Liu said Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to raise $4.9 billion for education with a tax initiative this fall. Whether or not the measure passes, she said, the state needs to alter its revenue stream and set tough spending priorities.

“The California budget is fundamentally broken,” she said. “Relying on income tax and capital gains tax has left the state vulnerable to swings in the economy. We need to look for long-term solutions that will buffer the state from economic swings.”

Public education has been one of Liu's top issues since entering the Legislature, and she said she will continue to work to improve schools.

“I don't believe passing new laws is the only way to get things done. In fact there are probably too many laws on the books and they pose obstacles to innovation and positive change,” she said. “My agenda this year includes continually looking at K-12 governance and bringing greater accountability to the higher education system.”

Councilman David Spence told Liu that the city is happy to work with her, albeit with a caveat.

"We'll be here to support [you] — probably not to raise taxes — but with any other issues you want our help on,” he said.

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