Yeah. So much for the playbook. On Thursday afternoon, after a copy of his proposal somehow was uploaded to a state website (oops), Governor Jerry Brown quickly summoned reporters and offered up the entire 2012-13 blueprint -- one that pegs the deficit at $9.2 billion and includes some major changes and cuts to health and human services.
"The California government is under stress," said Brown in his Capitol Q&A with reporters. "We're spending, in real terms, what we were in the 70s, under Ronald Reagan. So we're doing the best we can and it is a hardship."
The $137.3 billion spending plan offers yet more controversial spending cuts, but ones that appear to be rooted in some actual retooling of existing state government practices -- perhaps a sign that Brown knows that the system, as it exists, doesn't give him as many options.
Tops on that 'retooling' list would be the welfare-to-work program CalWorks. Brown proposes to cut $1.4 billion out of the program by reducing the assistance to families that fail to meet federal work requirements. In many cases, that's a cut from four years of eligibility for benefits down to two years.
Meantime, the budget seeks an outright repeal of some state mandates on local government, a savings of $828 million. Many of these mandates, from rules about abandoned pets in animal shelters to government meeting notices, have been suspended in recent years... necessary, because the state constitution says if locals are forced to do certain things, Sacramento needs to reimburse for it.
Other notable cuts include less spending on Medi-cal through new efforts at managed care alternatives for some 1.2 million patients; a 17% cut in available slots for subsidized child care; a $1 billion cut in prison spending, largely being attributed to the realignment of offenders to county jails.
The governor is also pushing changes -- i.e., fewer rules -- on state tax dollars spent on public schools. And he couches it all in the language of his desire to shift power to the local level.
"Let a thousand flowers bloom," said Brown in a paraphrase of Chairman Mao. "Let Kern County be Kernites, and let Modocians be Modocians, and let the San Francisco school district do what they do."
And yes, Brown's budget includes the promised new round of 'trigger cuts,' cuts that would automatically go into effect if his $7 billion tax initiative is rejected by voters on November 6.
Of the $5.4 billion in proposed trigger cuts, almost all are to education (with a few to the courts and CalFire thrown in for good measure). Most prominent is a $4.8 billion reduction in Proposition 98 guaranteed funding, which Brown's advisers say translates into a school year shortened by a whopping three weeks. The CSU and UC systems would also face new cuts should the tax package fail.
Brown is cognizant of accusations that the trigger list is equivalent to a threat to voters (the so-called "Washington Monument" strategy).
The governor's budget director, Ana Matasantos, says it's not that kind of ploy, because school funding represents the big dollars in the budget... and there's no other way to go if voters reject the taxes.
No governor's budget lands in the lap of the Legislature and is instantly praised and ratified, and neither will this one. Republicans, even in the post-Prop 25 world of budgets, will still be needed... because Brown proposes an extension of a fee on managed care plans to help fund health care for kids in low-income families. And that's a two-thirds vote. GOP legislators again called the budget full of one-time fixes, and urged more structural reforms.
Democrats, though, are where the real action is... and the leader of the state Senate seemed to throw some cold water on the prospect for fast action on the plan.
"When the governor proposes more cuts," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, "I'm very wary of that."
Steinberg said he doesn't support any cuts until spring tax revenues are counted. But that's a problem; the governor's proposal for cutting and revising the CalWorks program needs legislative enactment by March 1. If that doesn't happen, then he and his fellow Dems will have to start looking elsewhere.
And on the CalWorks cuts, expect some serious debate about the wisdom of another huge cut to a program that's already been cut a lot in recent years. Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California, says the governor's demand for stricter work requirements -- or else only 24 months of assistance for families -- comes at the same time where there already aren't enough jobs in general.
"24 months just isn't long enough," said Mecca.
There's a lot that has to happen from here. But for now, we've seen the proposal... it ain't pretty... and it's going to take a lot of negotiating, and even arm twisting, both at the state Capitol and -- as the tax campaign heats up -- around the state.