Our View: Brown wise to set frugal budget tone

May 17, 2013 

Jerry Brown made a call for "prudence, not exuberance" in his revised May budget Tuesday. While Democrats in the Legislature call for more spending, Brown is taking the right stance given a one-time revenue surge as a result of tax changes, the slow economic recovery and major policy changes being contemplated in education funding.

Certainly, the state is taking in much more revenue than last year — including a substantial one-time bump of $2.8 billion more than the governor expected in January. But next year, Brown is projecting that the state will bring in nearly $1 billion less than this year.

So Brown is wise not to go on a spending spree, instead choosing to pay down debt, to build a rainy day reserve and to put the one-time revenue toward one-time education expenditures — not ongoing expenses.

He has taken the suggestion of Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, who chair the Senate and Assembly education committees, and earmarked $1 billion of the one-time money for the new Common Core academic standards in English and math — teacher training, technology upgrades and curriculum — so schools can be ready by the 2014-15 school year.

Other one-time money would go to school districts to repay state deferrals of payments, thus reducing district borrowing costs.

Brown's strategy is shrewd; Democrats will have to fight with the education establishment and the teachers union if they want to spend the $2.8 billion in unanticipated revenue elsewhere.

And sweetening the education pot provides space for Brown to fight for his education funding overhaul.

He is right to insist on a three- legged stool: spending 80 cents of every education dollar on base grants for every student in a district; an additional 16 cents for every English learner or low- income student, who need extra services; and another 4 cents for districts that have a particularly high concentration of disadvantaged students, amounting to about $243 per student.

Brown rightly opposes Senate elimination of the concentration piece of the formula. Dumping that 4 percent into the base school grant would spread the money too thin.

The governor won't get everything he wants. He faces battles over his proposal to turn more state-run services over to counties, the coming implementation of the Affordable Care Act and his resistance to the federal court order to get the state's 33 prisons from 119,000 inmates to 110,000.

On the whole, however, Brown's budget sets a proper tone of frugality with an investment in education. California has "climbed out of a hole," he rightly noted, but it is "not time to break out the champagne."

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