Trigger-happy

STATE ISSUES: California has fallen about $700 million short of revenue targets so far this year, making trigger cuts more real.

The California Controller’s Office revealed this week that the state is now over $700 million behind its revenue projections for this year. This report not only strengthens our certainty that the potential $2.5 billion midyear trigger cuts will go through, but it also enhances our doubts about state legislators’ budget-making abilities.

The Monday report reveals that the state generated $301.6 million less than its target, raising the total amount that the state has fallen short this year to $705.5 million. In November, state officials will have to analyze whether to enact the cuts. A final decision will be made in December, meaning a potential $100 million could be slashed from the University of California alone.

Now that midyear cuts appear likely, we realize the plan to have them on the table only served to complicate the jobs of state-funded programs. Institutions like the UC and the California State University systems have already had to create budgets without factoring in additional cuts. Should the trigger cuts materialize, these institutions will have to re-budget their resources, restarting their process of deciding how to disperse funding cuts from the state. State officials’ continued reluctance to acknowledge the likelihood that they will have to enact the trigger cuts is a slap in the face. It is already October, data shows that the state is hundred of millions of dollars behind, and a final decision is to be made in two months. Yet state Department of Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer stated this week that “we are still in the early innings” and a spokesperson for the state treasurer said that it is “premature to be talking about any level of hope or lack thereof.”

Meanwhile, many outside Sacramento have seen clearly that such cuts have long been inevitable. In this situation, California resembles a sinking ship and we the citizens are watching our leaders stand by shouting that it is still too soon to tell whether the ship is going down.

The state banking on the unrealistic expectation that adequate revenue would come through by the end of the year to keep our systems afloat has always been flawed. Instead of allowing for the state to take more money out of the grasp of the already weakened fingers of the people midyear, Sacramento officials should have been more realistic upfront. The state’s universities and others would have faced far fewer difficulties in budgeting had they been able to account for the looming cuts initially. Then, should the state actually realize a revenue increase, those same parties would receive some relief from such a surplus midyear, rather than having to cut.

Instead of giving up on Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for extended tax increases, our elected officials should have also pushed harder for the relief that these taxes would have provided. The rest of the state is now left shaking in anticipation of the potential trigger cuts. Our elected officials must stop pointing fingers at one another and blaming the system for the end results. They must pursue budget strategies that do not place increased strain on our institutions midyear and stand up for the most effective policies to turn our economic situation around. Otherwise, this ship may end up at the bottom of the Pacific.