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California Budget Crisis Hits Colleges


California voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest effort to fix the state’s budget, a package of budget-balancing measures that he promised would provide a short-term patch for the current financial crisis and prevent further catastrophe in the future.

Instead, he now faces a $21.3 billion budget deficit and a budget system that has not changed a bit since he took office nearly six years ago.

“I think he’s discovered that this job is a lot harder than he anticipated in a state of economic downturn,” Treasurer Bill Lockyer said Tuesday of the governor who came into office in 2003 promising to “end the crazy deficit spending.”

Community college leaders issued a response Wednesday saying the cuts that will need to take place now will be catastrophic.

Said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott in a statement, “Our community colleges are on the front lines providing real-time solutions for millions of Californians. Many of our students are reeling from the shockwaves resulting from the global financial meltdown, high unemployment rates and a difficult job market. We’ve added more than 150,000 additional students this year alone and are serving 140,000 of them without any additional funding.

“As the chancellor leading our 110 colleges, it is my job to inform state leaders we simply cannot continue to be an effective safety net for displaced workers, train our nation’s nurses and firefighters and retool workers to serve in green jobs if the proposed cuts are enacted. As it stands now, our classrooms are full, waiting lists to get into classes are long and many students cannot access the courses they need to progress,” Scott said.

On Wednesday, after meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Schwarzenegger told reporters that voters have made clear to state lawmakers that they should take care of deficits through budget cuts, without passing the costs along to taxpayers.

Schwarzenegger said the state’s residents have had to sell off motorcycles, second cars and hold garage sales to make ends meet in recent months. Now, they’re telling state officials that the government has to shrink, too, and not come to them for extra help.

The Republican governor faces another tough round of budget negotiations after months spent haggling with lawmakers to close the state’s first budget shortfall, which was initially $42 billion through June 2010.

Schwarzenegger will be forced to spend much of his final year-and-a-half in office struggling with the same financial woes that led to the recall of his predecessor instead of enacting the sweeping policy changes he once envisioned.

“The biggest loser would be Arnold,” said Dr. Dave McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University. “It’s time to start looking for a cabinet post in the Obama administration or an ambassadorship someplace warm.”

Lockyer said Schwarzenegger and lawmakers will have to reach a new budget agreement quickly, with tax revenue coming in far below projections. Unless a compromise is struck by the end of June, the state could have trouble paying its bills by the end of July.

Political observers say Schwarzenegger and lawmakers will have little choice but to go after even politically sacred programs such as schools. An unusually high two-thirds vote threshold in the Legislature for passing budgets and partisan polarization could combine for a painful summer.

Last week, the governor said he will consider shortening the school year by seven days, laying off up to 5,000 state employees and taking money from local governments, which likely would translate into cuts to police and firefighting services.

Tens of thousands of teachers also face the prospect of layoffs.

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