By Daniel Weintraub
Gov.-elect Jerry Brown convened a forum on the California’s budget situation Wednesday, declaring that the state faced a “very serious” crisis that dated to decisions made over the past decade.
“I’m determined to do everything I can to get us back on track,” Brown said.
Brown, who will take office Jan. 3, tried to keep specific solutions off the table Wednesday, instead asking state finance officials to lay out the scope of the problem. He was joined by three legislative leaders and other state officials.
Brown said the state is divided between north and south, Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural areas. To bridge those gaps, he said, people need to have as much information as possible.
“It’s very hard to come to any agreement if there is no consensus on what they underlying facts are,” he said.
Some of the facts highlighted in the forum:
–The state faces a $25 billion gap between projected revenues and spending over the next 18 months. That’s more than the state will spend on higher education and the prisons combined.
–The state is unlikely to grow its way out of the problem. It faces an ongoing $20 billion gap between spending and revenues even if the economy recovers as expected during the next few years.
–The recent recession has meant more than twice as many jobs lost as previous downturns and will require twice as long for the state’s jobs picture to return to its previous peak.
–California is a relatively high tax state, but its government and school payrolls are among the lowest in the nation when measured on a per capita basis.
Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg thanked Brown for beginning what he said he hoped would be “an intelligent conversation” with the people of California about the budget.
“It’s long overdue and it’s absolutely essential,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg said the problem is complex and the solutions can be complicated. But he said it comes down to something much more simple:
“What do we want as a state, and how do we go about paying for it,” he said.
Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare said she was ready to work with Democrats to solve the problem but she cautioned that Republicans would oppose tax increases.
“We can no longer spend what we don’t have,” she said. “There is no doubt tough choices lie ahead.”