Thursday, March 22, 2012





Just 17 months ago, when voters passed Proposition 25 and restored simple majority votes of the Legislature in California budgeting, the presumption was that if Democrat Jerry Brown also became governor, a new era of sweetness and light would arise in Sacramento. For budgeting would now be a one-party thing, no Republicans involved.

Well, as the old George Gershwin song warns, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Yes, Brown was elected governor. Yes, legislative Democrats have large majorities in both the Assembly and state Senate. But that doesn’t mean those Democrats will accept every budget proposal Brown makes.

For one thing, getting Democrats to cooperate with each other and a governor of their own party has long been a little like trying to herd cats. For another, Brown has proposed a bunch of cuts that stick in Democratic craws.

Here’s Tom Torlakson, the state schools superintendent and a Democratic ex-legislator, on Brown’s plan to reduce school funding further than it’s already been slashed, if voters reject his tax increase proposal this fall:

"Blatantly unfair.” That was his term for the $4 billion schools stand to lose via "triggered cuts" in the upcoming fiscal year if Brown's newly-revised tax proposition fails.

True, Brown might back off that a bit if state revenues improve by the fall. There’s also the possibility, suspected by some, that his draconian triggered school cuts are really a political tactic aimed at pressuring voters – among whom schools are the single most popular government program – to vote yes on his tax proposition.

But in almost 10 years as governor, Brown has never gone in much for of that sort of jawboning. Usually, he simply means what he says.

Lowered school funding to be triggered in the fall if there are no new taxes is only one area of Democratic resistance to this Democratic governor. There are also Brown’s plans to de-emphasize standardized testing and change funding formulas for child care, which Torlakson labeled “misguided” for their neglect of early childhood development.

Then there was the talk the other day as the Assembly’s subcommittee on education finance debated a plan to slash Cal Grant funding. Brown would cut this ultra-popular (especially among students) scholarship program by $302 million, negatively affecting 72,000 students. Most are black or Chicano, two ethnic groups dear to Democratic hearts for the huge majorities they usually give the party’s candidates at all levels.

As part ofhis plan to cut $9.3 billion from next year’s budget, Brown intends to lower the amount poor kids attending private universities can get to help pay for school from $9,708 to $4,000. That would knock a lot of minority students right out of college. So would the Brown proposal to raise the minimum grade point average needed to get a grant from today’s range of 2.0 to 3.0 to a new minimum range of 2.75 to 3.24. Essentially, the governor is saying, C students no longer need apply. No less than a B- average will do.

“Why are we talking about (cutting) a program that is successful and helping students in tough economic times?” asked Democratic Assemblyman Sandre Swanson of Alameda. Legislators also scoffed at the Brown suggestion that students now attending private schools can easily switch to public colleges if their Cal Grants drop.

“There are no seats at the inn,” remarked Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, now running for a Ventura County seat in Congress.

Even before this, there was pressure on the governor to restore proposed new cuts to adult in-home health services and out-of-home day care centers for frail adults, both on humanitarian grounds and because of claims that cutting such care would force many more seniors into nursing homes and end up costing the state far more.

In short, Brown is tweaking the noses of well-established core Democratic constituencies and they don’t like it.

Through all this discussion of and griping about the Brown ideas, Republicans have said little. They never cared much for many programs Brown seeks to cut and those who benefit from them rarely vote for GOP candidates.

That’s why the lone Republican on the education finance subcommittee, Brian Nestande of Palm Desert, created no waves when he walked out of its hearing on some of this before the panel took any votes.

The lesson here: No matter how big the Democratic majorities and no matter how many personal visits Brown makes to lawmakers and key supporters of schools and other programs, he will not have an easy time making these cuts.


Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit