Yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown took to the airwaves of the 21st Century—YouTube— to ask Californians to let lawmakers know they want a chance to vote on his budget extensions in June.
"I don't see this as a Republican or a Democratic issue," Brown said in his three-minute video. "This is a matter of all of us thinking as Californians first and acting in solidarity to grapple with problems that have been avoided too long."
It is more than rhetoric. Basically, if Californians don’t get a chance to vote—and pass—the tax extensions, the repercussions to public schools will be devastating.
And that’s heartbreaking to our newest Assemblymember from the 11th District, Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. The former County Supervisor, Concord Mayor and Concord High English teacher—and mother of four—has made education a priority in both her personal and professional life. It’s no different now that she makes the daily treks up to Sacramento. In fact, she is the chair of the subcommittee on education finance.
“We need these tax extensions, or it will mean devastation to education, and the repercussions won’t stop there,” she told Patch in a recent interview. “How can we expect to dig out of the economic hole and the unemployment we have when we are wrenching jobs away?"
But that’s besides the point right now. Today, Bonilla just hopes to give Californians the chance to vote on the tax extensions.
Last week the Legislature began chipping away at the deficit, primarily by cutting health care services for seniors and the poor. But the most contentious parts of Brown's budget proposal remain unresolved, including his desire to eliminate local redevelopment agencies and his call for a special election in June.
(Patch will look at the redevelopment issue next week, but you can read on its effects on the city, here.)
The GOP is holding out, as the Governor needs just two more votes from each house to get the tax extensions on the ballot. It’s been a bitter, uphill battle for the new Legislature and governor, but Bonilla believes if anyone can do it, Brown can.
“Despite all of this, there is a sense of hope with Jerry that wasn’t there before,” she said. “There is a sense that he is willing to work with the legislature that I don’t think was there in the last administration.
To that effect, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told the AP that this is the week to get bipartisan support to call a vote. "Time is of the essence. ... We're talking days, not weeks," Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, said after meeting with Brown and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles. "There's going to be an all-hands effort to try to pull together an agreement and to try to get the minimum number of Republican votes—or more than the minimum number—to give the people a choice."
But even if the people do get a chance to vote, there is no guarantee the tax extensions will pass, Bonilla said, but she is hopeful that most people in the state support public education. “It is critical to help stabilize the economy in our state.”
Many parents have heard dire warnings: teacher layoffs, more school closures and worse. In fact, just yesterday State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson—himself a former MDUSD teacher—warned that nearly 2 million California students attend school in financially troubled districts, according to a report released Monday by his office.
"As disturbing as these numbers are," he said in a prepared statement, "unless the Legislature moves to place the governor's tax extension plan on the ballot, they are just the tip of the financial iceberg facing school districts up and down the state."
Mt. Diablo is not among the 13 districts that may not be able to pay their bills through the end of the year, but was given a “qualified certification,” meaning it may not be able to pay its bills through next year, 2012-2013.
Mt. Diablo's certification hinges on unions accepting furlough days and health benefits cuts that haven't yet been negotiated. The board approved a three-year budget that drops from $297.5 million this year to $270.5 million in 2011-12, including an anticipated loss of $349 per student if the tax extensions fail.
Right now those are a bunch of numbers, but when your son is in a class with 40 other second graders, or your local school closes, or you lose your high school’s college counselor or beloved teachers, these numbers will mean something.
I am not an English teacher like Bonilla was—and I have no desire to have her present job. But we share an intense dedication to public schools, to helping our kids get the same benefits as other kids in other states. But a free public education doesn’t exist anymore. So let’s pay for it.
Or at least give the people the chance to vote on it. Write your legislator to urge them to vote to get the tax extensions on the ballot.