Five months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown abruptly abandoned hope of finding four Republicans in the Legislature to go along with his tax-initiative plan. Instead he went in another direction to balance California's budget.
His new plan included some wishful accounting — a hope for $4 billion more revenue than was otherwise forecast.
On Wednesday, officials got the bad news: The money's not coming.
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office reported that state revenue will be lower by some $3.7 billion than projected for the 2012-13 fiscal year. As set up by legislators, this will trigger $2 billion in spending cuts at the start of 2012, including a reduction of up to $1.4 billion for public education.
It also means a loss of $100 million each for the UC and CSU systems.
For K-8 schools, the cuts will be equivalent to losing seven more days of instruction. Few expect school districts will accommodate these latest cutbacks solely by scaling back school days. But if they did, it would bring the total number of instructional days down from 180 to 168.
California already had one of the shortest school calendars in the nation before this hit.
Such mid-year reductions would be inconceivable, particularly given how class sizes are growing, school electives and resources are disappearing and California students are struggling to keep up with testing mandates and other obligations.
The net effect is going to be more dropouts and more opportunities for children to fall through the cracks and disappear through the system.
All of this points out the need — ever more significant — for a tax measure to bolster state revenue and protect schools and students from deeper and more Draconian cuts.
The situation is not expected to get better in the near future. The legislative analyst predicts that, without significant action, the state will be $10 billion in the hole by July 1 and $13 billion in the red in 18 months.
Overall, general fund spending in California has declined more than 16 percent — from $103 billion in 2007 to $86 billion. Up to now, the state has confronted its budget challenges almost entirely through spending cuts.
As we've stated before, California needed to regain control of its spending. At the same time, it's past prodigal ways should not become an excuse for punishing today's students or today's disabled, poor and elderly residents.
Voters deserve the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they're willing to increase taxes or force the state and schools to cut deeper. It was a vote GOP legislators wouldn't allow this year.
Now we're seeing the fallout.
A final decision will come next month when the governor receives information from the Department of Finance concerning its forecast for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. But it's unlikely that information with be much different than this week's report.
Our hope is that the governor will come out strong with his own plan for getting the state budget back on track — a plan that includes a tax measure. And this time, we hope he won't take no for an answer.