As the state and nation continue to deal with the ongoing effects of the Great Recession, the news from both Washington, D.C., and Sacramento on public budgets has been grim. Legislators are sparring over different scenarios for trimming the huge deficits created by the recession, and higher education funding may hang in the balance.

Federal Budget Battle

In Washington, House and Senate Republicans who believe that an expanded federal deficit is contributing to an anemic recovery are proposing major cuts in federal spending. Democrats have resisted some of the proposed cuts, and the differing points of view nearly shut down the federal government. A compromise was reached and a final vote to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year was passed on Thursday, April 14.

Pell Grants

The one bit of good news is that the Continuing Resolution on the budget that was passed last week continues the Pell Grant Program at the current maximum award level of $5,550. The legislation also makes reforms to the Pell Grant Program that are estimated to save more than $35 billion over the next 10 years by eliminating the ability of students to draw down two Pell Grant awards at the same time.

State Budget Negotiations Break Off

The situation in Sacramento is no better. In an attempt to balance the budget, Governor Jerry Brown and the legislature have already cut more than $11.2 billion in state spending. In order to erase the remaining deficit, Governor Brown was hoping to place a measure before the California voters that would extend current tax rates for sales tax, income tax and vehicle license fees. Those rates were enacted as temporary measures in previous budget bills and are set to expire. The legislative rules require a two-thirds vote of each house to place a tax measure before the voters. So far, the governor has been unable to get enough votes to place the matter on the ballot in June. If the tax measures expire, California may be looking at an "all-cuts budget," which would require an additional $12.5 billion in budget cuts. So far, Cal Grants have remained funded in the proposed budget and insiders say they look safe; however, all bets are off if an all-cuts budget is passed .

A brief look at the calendar is rather foreboding unless a consensus budget emerges by July 1:

• On May 13, the so-called "May Revise" budget is scheduled to be released from the governor's office. Brown has indicated that he will produce an all-cuts budget, which is expected to severely impact K-12 education, public safety, and health and social programs. Two days later, California teachers would be notified if they will be laid off for the 2011-12 academic year.

• June 15 is the constitutional deadline for the legislature to submit a balanced budget and July 1 is the beginning of the fiscal year. If the temporary taxes passed in the 2009 budget expire and a state budget is not approved, the state may once again have to issue IOUs, and its credit rating will suffer.

• August 11 is the last day to place a measure on the November ballot. By August 15, schools in California will begin to open for the fall term. Without a budget or tax extensions, the school districts would have to make unprecedented cuts.

One of the shadows hanging over the budget negotiations is the redistricting process. Through a series of Supreme Court rulings, the states must redraw the legislative boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes after each census. In past years, the legislature has redrawn the maps. This often led to politically safe seats for incumbents. Certainly that was the case in California in 2001. Of the 530 House elections in California over the past 10 years, only one seat has changed party hands. Just one. However, in the last election, the voters of California approved a nonpartisan redistricting commission, which will redraw the maps for the state Assembly, state Senate and the House districts from California. Draft maps are scheduled to be released in June, and final maps must be approved by August. Because of the change, lawmakers do not know where their districts may be in the next election, nor whom they may represent. Politicians hate uncertainly, and they will not take any political chances, especially with votes on controversial budget issues involving major cuts or possible tax increases.

Local News

The annual Moraga Community Fair is fast approaching. This popular event will be held on Saturday, May 14, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Rheem Valley Shopping Center. For more information, contact Ellen Beans at 925-376-7306 or ellen.beans@gmail.com.

Also, congratulations to Moraga resident Gordon Nathan, who has been selected as Moraga's Citizen of the Year. A banquet was held at the Soda Center on April 15 to honor Nathan for his years of service to the community, in particular his work with the Community Emergency Response Training, or CERT.

Presidential Debate

As you may have heard, Saint Mary's has been selected as one of 12 finalists to host one of the 2012 U.S. presidential debates. As things stand now, it looks like there will be three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. A team of producers from the Commission on Presidential Debates will visit all the finalist campuses over the next few weeks to thoroughly review the sites. We will know by early November if we are selected. If you have not yet seen it, here is the video that was submitted with our formal application.

Tim Farley
Community and Government Relations Director

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