Gov. Jerry Brown means business with California budget cuts

Gov. Jerry Brown is making sweeping cuts to California’s budget in an attempt to address a deficit that is in the billions.

Jeff Koch, Writer

How we got here

While the rest of the country was seeing (and voting) red in the 2010 elections, California continued to put on an even bluer ensemble by electing governor Jerry Brown to yet another term as governor. For the past year, it has been Brown’s item number one to repair and re-balance the state’s woefully unbalanced budget. Sweeping cuts have come from everywhere in the budget he can find.

Surveying the budget cuts

Brown has been trying to save the state money a few million dollars at a time. Earlier in his administration, back in January of this year, Brown ordered nearly 50,000 cell phones confiscated from state employees –– cell phones that the state was footing the bill for. In a written statement, the governor said, “Some state employees, including department and agency executives who are required to be in touch 24 hours a day and seven days a week, may need cell phones, but the current number of phones out there is astounding.” The state will now only be equipping its most necessary employees with on-the-house phones. The seemingly simple measure will actually save the state at least $20 million dollars annually –– perhaps more if those phones were equipped with Smartphone packages, data plans or other additional, costly features.

Eliminating freebies

A similar move in February found Brown banning the state from giving away freebies –– items like key chains, T-shirts and coffee mugs –– at state-run events. He’s also [banned non-essential travel for state-employees] (,0,421842.story “”) on his dime. He even flew to Los Angeles on Southwest with a senior discount and without security detail to save the expense, according to Gil Duran, one of his spokespersons. While no estimates were given as to how much money such measures would save the state, Brown’s cost-cutting micro-management is more of a demonstration; Brown is out to show he means business with the budget.

Cutting public programs

His administration has also reduced state-funding allotments to public works projects, welfare projects, Medi-Cal and the California State University system. One caveat of his funding slash is that he won’t cut K-12 education funding. In a statement on his official website from last month, Brown remarked that, “schools have borne the brunt of spending reductions in recent years,” and would rather cut other programs.

And cut he has. Programs already cash-poor are getting less and less funding, with employees of the state’s jobs and pensions on the line and welfare patrons at risk of losing benefits. Tensions are running high.

A glimmer of hope

But, the cuts may be making inroads. The Office of the Governor reported at the end of March that cuts already in place had essentially cut the deficit in half.

Brown now goes to the state legislature to pass his proposal to tackle the next half. He’s proposed a two-fold plan that will bring the budget back to the black. According to Brown’s plan, half would be tax increases and extensions, and the other half further cuts.

Partisan roadblocks

Republicans have recoiled from this proposal. They want the budget to be balanced entirely from budget cuts. Brown referred to the Republican suggestions as “an ever-changing list of collateral demands,” to which the Republicans responded by shutting down negotiations last month. State Republicans are under huge pressure not to go to the table with Brown and company from fellow Republicans. This has created a stalemate –– Brown needs four more votes from Republicans to get any legislation passed.

It will be interesting to see how the standoff unfolds. State Republicans and Democrats are just now coming off of party conferences, and should be stronger than ever in their own budget ideals.

Cuts in the midst of fuss

But even while negotiations are at a near-standstill, Brown is making simple cuts wherever he can, overturning an order to build a new death-row complex at the infamous San Quentin prison this week. The complex would have cost the state $356 million on a system that already costs the state roughly $44,000 per inmate –– it would be cheaper to send every single prisoner of the state to Biola than to house them as-is.

It seems no matter how the budget will be reconciled, Brown is on a mission of fiscal responsibility. What remains to be seen is where the rest of the money will come from. Republicans would like to see it come from state programs and the tax-sheltered Silicon Valley. Democrats would rather increase state income taxes.

Thanks to Brown’s diligence, however, some progress is being made.

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