August 5, 2009 | By The Associated Press
Aug. 1: Bakersfield Californian: "Keep CAHSEE exemption in place"
July's state budget cuts will result in plenty of pain for California public education — with one little-noted exception.
The California High School Exit Exam, a reality for the past few years on campuses statewide, will no longer be required of certain disabled students, including those with learning disorders, mental retardation, autism and visual or hearing impairments.
The new policy, slipped into the state's new budget, is a good one. Special education students will still be able to earn high school diplomas the old-fashioned way — by passing their classes and accumulating the requisite number of credits. But they'll be excused from passing the high-stakes exam, which may prove too difficult.
The budget deal signed by the governor last week suspends the CAHSEE test requirement for special-education students in 2010 and possibly beyond. However, the newly established exception, which has little or no budgetary implications, leaves 2008 and 2009 special-ed students who failed the test still on the hook, with only a certification of completion to show for their four years of high school.
There's no reason these students shouldn't be able to apply for diplomas if they have met all of the other criteria. And there's no reason the requirement should remain for disabled students after the state budget gets back on track — assuming such a day eventually arrives.
Aug. 2: Vallejo Times-Herald: "A time for bold leadership"
There's a lesson to be learned from the state's latest budget fiasco: California desperately needs a long-term fiscal policy that delivers good public services at a reasonable cost to taxpayers and does not undermine economic growth.
It is not an impossible task. For decades in the not-so-distant past, California was a national leader in education at all levels, transportation, water projects and recreation. It also was an economic magnet.
However, in recent years, California's schools have suffered, highways are inadequate, there are water shortages, social services are threatened and state parks are slated for closure. Moreover, productive people are leaving the state.
Even with $12 billion in tax increases last February and $15 billion in spending cuts, California still does not have a sustainable balanced budget.
Once again, accounting gimmicks and borrowing have been used to cobble together a budget that delays payments for today's services to next year and beyond. That will make the 2010-11 fiscal year budget even more difficult even if the economy improves.
Granted, the steep recession, which has hit California particularly hard, has made budget balancing more difficult than usual. It also has painfully revealed the structural flaws in the way California collects and spends public funds.
In May, Californians were asked to pass six ballot measures that curbed spending, raised taxes and borrowed money in order to balance the state's current and future budgets. The voters rejected five of them.
Some analysts interpreted the losses as a voter rejection of new taxes; others said voters did not want to jeopardize state services, particularly education.
There's some truth to each view. But we believe the voters mainly were telling state lawmakers to make the tough decisions on taxes and spending. In other words, they were seeking some leadership in Sacramento.
It's leadership that has been missing for some time, a situation made worse by term limits. Legislators do not have the time in office to attain a level of expertise needed to tackle difficult fiscal problems. Nor have they time to win confidence among their colleagues or the public that is required for them to become effective leaders.
Instead, legislators are constantly looking for their next position -- elected or appointed. As a result, they are content to delay tough decisions until they have moved on.
A Legislature composed of short-timers certainly makes it a lot more difficult for a governor to lead. That is especially true when virtually all of the legislators are in safe gerrymandered seats and are beholden to four legislative leaders who seem to be the only players in making budget decisions.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has become a prime example of dysfunctional leadership. He roared into office on the heels of the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. After a few victories, Schwarzenegger fell into the same trap as his predecessor. He was unable to control spending during a robust economy.
Now he is belatedly taking on the role of the "great eradicator," saying he is reining in big government. What he's really doing is making desperate attempts at frugality by chopping basic social services even more than was agreed to in the past-due budget deal. That's not leadership.
What California needs are leaders who are willing to limit increases in spending to something close to the growth in overall state income, setting large amounts of revenue aside in good economic times to be tapped into during economic slowdowns.
Reining in unsustainable state pensions, which are piling up billions of dollars in state obligations, and making prison reforms that reduce recidivism could save considerable revenue without threatening education spending.
However, reforming pensions and prisons, curbing spending increases, and raising taxes require making decisions that will be unpopular with public employee unions, special interests and taxpayers.
Success requires a long-term vision and bold leadership. Both have been lacking for far too long in Sacramento.
July 31: Redding Record-Searchlight: "Governor plants seed of future tax increases"
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger boasts that the budget revisions he signed this week did not raise taxes, but he'll have a hard time explaining that to the farmers and ranchers whose property taxes spike in coming years thanks to his shredding, via line-item veto, of the Williamson Act.
The law, in place since the 1960s, grants a property-tax break for agricultural land whose owners sign 10-year contracts not to build suburban housing tracts or strip malls on their property. It certainly hasn't stopped all subdividing and paving of farms in our growing state, but it has eased development pressure and kept farmers from being taxed off their land. It preserves open space for the future through mutual agreement, without simply trampling property owners' rights.
Now the governor doesn't think the state can afford it any more. And while nobody's taxes will increase immediately, the higher bills will spread as surely as bermuda grass.
The governor vetoed the Williamson Act "subvention" - some $35 million the state pays counties to make up for lost property-tax revenue. The sum isn't much to the state government, but to rural counties with few people but vast swaths of farmland, it's huge. Shasta County is losing about a quarter-million dollars, Tehama and Glenn counties nearly $1 million each.
The counties can't back out of the Williamson Act contracts in the short run, which means they're stuck with lower revenues. The contracts do, however, expire after 10 years. And it will be the hardest of sales to persuade cash-strapped county supervisors that they should keep giving ranchers a break without the state making their budgets whole. Counties have to pay their sheriff's deputies somehow.
And even if the Legislature restores some portion of the money, for which Assemblyman Jim Nielsen says he'll advocate, county officials will still be rightfully wary. Why sign a 10-year deal for a tax break when the governor, at the stroke of a pen, can decide to stop keeping the state's end?
The budget might not raise taxes today, but it plows the field, plants the seeds and gives a nice round of flood irrigation to start tomorrow's taxes growing.
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