LONG BEACH (CBS / AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday vowed to fight to protect public education funding as he worked to wrangle a deal with Republican lawmakers over how to best close a yawning budget deficit of more than $15 billion.
The Democratic governor spoke at the California State Parent Teacher Association’s 112th convention to several thousand PTA members and delegates a day after a new poll indicated a majority of Californians are concerned about the impact of any future budget cuts on public schools. But most of those surveyed also said they did not want to see their own taxes go up to solve the problem.
Brown wants to extend for five years increases to the personal income, sales and vehicle taxes, but negotiations have stalled. The tax increases are scheduled to expire this year, and renewing them would bring the state an additional $9.2 billion a year.
Brown wanted to hold a special election in June to put the tax question to voters, but has been unable to get the necessary Republican votes in the state Legislature to get it on the ballot. He has signed bills that cut the $26.6 billion budget deficit by $11.2 billion by reducing spending and transferring money between various government funds.
Brown told cheering parents and teachers that he was their ally in the battle to protect education funding in the upheaval.
“It’s going to have to be the voice of the parents and teachers and yes, even the school students themselves to awaken the conscience of California to our true path forward, which is to invest in the future and not steal from it,” he said. “That’s really what’s at stake here.”
A voter ballot measure on the tax renewals was critical to the state’s future, he said, and it isn’t one that state lawmakers should make “in the dark of night in Sacramento.”
“It’s a choice that the people have a right to make. You can’t tell the people of California, ‘Shut up, we don’t want to hear from you,’” he said.
Brown told reporters that nothing was off the table in order to get the Republican votes needed for a ballot measure on tax extensions — including pension reform and a spending cap.
When asked if he would consider a second, separate voter ballot measure on pension reform, Brown said all alternatives were up for consideration as long as it would get both sides talking again.
“I think that’s all a part of the discussion. I’m open to anything,” he said. “I put no preconditions to meeting with the Republican lawmakers. Anything they want, whether it’s pension reform, capping, regulatory form, I’m listening. Even agricultural issues, I’m listening.”
Brown said he was optimistic that lawmakers would ultimately find a compromise despite the current stalemate.
“Some of the Republicans as recently as the night before last said, ‘We’re going to get there.’ I’ve been speaking with these Republicans frequently, so within the last 48 hours I heard from a couple of them some very positive — but by no means definitive — comments,” he said.
The poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 65 percent of likely voters are very concerned that public schools will suffer if deeper cuts are made to education to help close the state’s remaining $15.4 billion budget deficit.
The institute found that 56 percent of likely voters favor a special election giving the electorate the right to decide key budget questions, while 61 percent support Brown’s plan to balance the budget through a mix of cuts and taxes. But that does not mean voters would endorse the Democratic governor’s proposal entirely.
Two-thirds of likely voters surveyed said they oppose raising personal-income taxes to maintain current funding for schools, and nearly as many oppose higher sales taxes to pay for schools. Instead, six in 10 favor raising income taxes on top earners to fund education.
Parent and local PTA official Heidi Pyle, of Corona, said she was extremely concerned about her youngest daughter’s future and had watched the public school education shrink in the past decade.
“It would just be great to see that my 9-year-old will have the same opportunities that my 21-year-old had, and right now I don’t see the equal opportunity that this child is getting compared to my first child,” she said as her daughter, Kati-Lynn, listened.
“That’s all parents want is to have our children do better and be better than what the generation before had.”
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