If Californians don't support a plan to temporarily increase taxes, state schools will see an immediate and hard hit, said Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday.
In a luncheon—hosted by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, The City Club of San Diego and the Independent Voter Network at the San Diego Hall of Champions— Brown said if voters don't support a proposed November ballot initiative to raise taxes—the state will cut $5.4 billion from its budget, which could mean a school year with three fewer weeks.
"We need to get a consistent flow of funding to the schools. Of course, to get that money we're going to ask you to support the temporary tax because that's completely for the schools," said the governor of a state looking to close a $9.2 billion deficit. "If we don't get that $6 billion, we're going to cut—you better believe it. It's not a threat. I'm just telling you it's just the way it is. Education is a bigger part of the budget—it cannot be ignored."
In a broad speech that covered high-speed rail plans, pensions, renewable energy and the controversial elimination of redevelopment agencies—Brown said that other states look to California as a "leader" but he needs voters to support a temporary tax initiative.
Brown is lobbying for voters to raise the sales tax by one half-cent for four years and to raise income taxes on Californians who earn $250,000 a year or more. With the increases, the state could generate about $6.9 billion through 2017, according to the Department of Finance. However, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the tax initiatives will generate $4.8 billion.
"I proposed last time that we cut and have a temporary tax," said Brown of his failed initiative in 2011. "This isn't good stuff but we got to balance our books. I need to balance and we project over the next five years that our economy will grow out of this."
Aside from the proposed tax initiative, Brown said with the elimination of redevelopment agencies, leaders could change the delivery of programs and services with the local government.
"State activity, state spending and state responsibility has gotten very jumbled up with the cities," he said. "That's why we need something called realignment."
"We're looking to build a better vehicle for redevelopment. When you get this money, it's not free—it comes from somewhere. It's property tax. When you divert the taxes that would otherwise go to the schools and the country, you create a gap and where do you get the money? The state," said Brown, touching on the state deficit that topped $26 billion last year.
"We can create a vehicle for redevelopment but we can't do it by you robbing the schools. The old redevelopment had too many abuses and that need to change. How that change will unfold? Well, that's where we have the Legislature."
Brown's speech, specifically his proposal to increase taxes, drew mixed reactions from local leaders.
San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce President Ruben Barrales said he hoped state leaders would look into solving some of the "real problems."
"From my perspective and from talking to people in the business community, we need to see some real programs on some of these real problems and that we're working together to make California a better place."
Barrales added that he was unsure how well the tax-hike proposal would do in California.
"The tax proposal is going to be tough thing to get through," he said. "I understand that the Governor has a lot on his plate and he's expecting us to work with our legislators to come up with some suggestions."
Republican political consultant John Dadian agreed.
"I don't think it will do well state-wide," he said. "I think it's a very hard sale but then again, having said that, Gov. Jerry Brown is a great salesman so it has a chance because of the weight he has behind it. I would say that people historically, have a lot of concerns, but they always vote with their pocketbooks. Not just the blue class workers but the middle class and the upper-middle class are all still hurting."
But The City Club of San Diego President George Mitrovich said he supports the initiative and that it would challenge Californians.
"We have not had an actual political leader since President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy who challenged us," he said. "I think we as a people need to be challenged and I think he's doing that. I'm not sure if the president of the United States is doing that. We have huge problems but I think it would un-American to suggest we cannot work our way through it."
Brown's attempt to fix the deficit of the state with the lowest Standard & Poor's rating at A-, will go before voters in November if an effort to gather enough signatures is successful. He has also made stops in Los Angeles and Orange counties to ask for support of the proposal.
Click on the box above to read Patch's live blog of the speech.