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Friday, November 20, 2009 2:35 AM

California Students Protest 32% Tuition Hike; State Budget Gridlock II Coming; Massive Deficits In San Francisco

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Massive fiscal problems confront California once again. Let's start with a look at California students hit with 32% hike in tuition.

California undergraduates and their parents just got hit with a 32% increase in tuition by next summer.

With hundreds of angry students chanting outside their meeting at UCLA, the California Board of Regents approved the $2,500, two-step fee hike, which will raise the basic tuition at the 10-campus University of California system to $10,300 a year. That's three times what it cost a decade ago. Other fees, books, and room and board adds an additional $16,000.

With the state $21 billion in the hole and slashing funding for education, the regents said they had no choice. At the same time, UC is restricting new admissions in a bid to save money.

More increases seem inevitable.

UC President Mark Yudof has asked for $913 million more next year for the UC system and says he "can't make any promises" to not raise fees again if the state doesn't come through. "When you have no choice, you have no choice," Yudof said after a regents' committee endorsed the fee plan Wednesday. "I'm sorry."

California Deficit Hits $21 Billion

California is back in another deep hole. A $21 Billion Fiscal Shortfall Could Mean More Cuts, Higher Taxes and the Return of IOUs to Meet Obligations. Please consider Budget Gap Widens in Sacramento.
California is deep in red ink again, according to a new report projecting that the cash-strapped state faces a $21 billion budget shortfall through June 2011.

Facing so much fiscal red ink, Californians could see another round of spending cuts and tax increases. Since September 2008, state lawmakers have enacted three budgets to close a cumulative $77 billion shortfall. They closed the gap largely through spending cuts and tax increases, but also with federal-stimulus funds and one-time accounting gimmicks. At one point, California was so close to insolvency it was forced to issue IOUs.

The report's conclusions now raise the likelihood of another lengthy impasse among the state's hyper-partisan legislators that could threaten California's solvency and force officials to again resort to IOUs.

Republicans, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, are opposing tax increases. Democrats, who control the state legislature but fall short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass budgets, vow to resist new spending cuts.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, who will release a budget proposal in early January, has said the state needs more across-the-board cuts. "I think it's important not to raise revenues, not to raise taxes," he said Wednesday at a conference in Milan, Italy. "We have to live within our means."

The new budget report said $6 billion of the projected shortfall in the current fiscal year is largely due to unrealistic budget assumptions about tax revenue and spending on schools and prisons.

A chunk of the remaining $14 billion deficit forecast for the 2010-2011 fiscal-year budget would result from the expiration of temporary budget solutions, such as use of federal-stimulus funds and accounting gimmicks, according to the report.
California Gridlock II Coming

History is about to repeat. A $21 billion budget deficit gridlock threatens to send Sacramento back into gridlock.
"There is no more to cut from our schools," California Teachers Assn. President David Sanchez said Tuesday. "There is no more meat on this bone. . . . The next step is amputation."

In higher education, Chancellor Charles Reed of the Cal State University system said this month that he will plead for $884 million in funds from Sacramento next year. The University of California will ask for $913 million more for its 10-campus system, President Mark Yudof has said.

"If ever there was a time to fight for and invest in the institution best positioned to power this state from recession, now is that time," Yudof said in a statement. UC students, meanwhile, are coping with a staggering 32% fee hike.

California's finances have been so bad that the governor's finance director, Mike Genest, told a budget forum in Washington last week that back in February he had combed through the U.S. Constitution to research whether California could legally declare bankruptcy -- or revert to some kind of territorial status. (Neither was realistic, he determined.)

The state's financial problems predate the current recession and the gimmicks used to paper over the deficit, experts say. Year in and year out, state government spends roughly $10 billion more than it collects in tax revenue.

Political divisions in Sacramento, where support from both parties is necessary to pass a budget, have repeatedly stymied efforts to plug that hole. The task probably won't be easier next year as various interests try to muscle one another to the sidelines.
Budget Woes In San Francisco

It's not just the sate that is in trouble. The San Francisco Chronicle reports S.F. home value drop, jobless drain city budget.
San Francisco's lowered home values and high unemployment rates have created another unwelcome side effect: far less revenue coming into city coffers than expected.

A report released Monday by the controller's office shows that property tax revenues will likely be $35 million less than anticipated in the 2009-10 fiscal year that began July 1. Payroll tax revenues will probably be $24.8 million less than expected, the report said.

To make matters worse, some city departments are going over budget, including shortfalls of $5.1 million in the Fire Department, $4 million in the Sheriff's Department and $3.2 million in Superior Court.

"I don't even know if I have words to describe how bad this is," said Steve Kawa, Mayor Gavin Newsom's chief of staff. "It may be the perfect financial storm," Kawa said. "It's going to be incredibly difficult to find a way to balance next year's budget without some severe impacts."

In the near term, the fight over midyear cuts could get ugly. Already, several supervisors are at odds with the mayor over the supervisors' plan to approve spending $7 million to rescind more than 500 layoff notices going into effect this week for city and school district workers.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said he expects the $35 million figure to wind up being conservative. He said 350 property owners had filed appeals by this time two years ago, and their properties were worth a total of $2 billion. This year, the 4,000 property owners represent property totaling $25 billion.

Elsbernd said that's why the board needs to get serious about major fiscal reform, including employee health benefits and retirement systems.

"These numbers are dramatic," he said. "We need to go after the big money now. A clip here, a clip there doesn't get it done."
Rest assured everyone in California is going to get clipped one way or another, and probably multiple ways at once.

What an incredible mess.

Yet, there is still little talk about cutting pensions, fixing the prison system, privatizing services, or doing anything about illegal immigrants. Those are items that should be at the top of the discussion list.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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