Calif. Gov. Proposes Cuts To Close Budget Deficit

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California is facing a huge budget deficit. In his State of the Sate speech Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown urged lawmakers to let the state's voters decide on his budget plan. Brown said it's possible to turn things around, but not without inflicting some pain.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

California's new governor got a mention of the uprising in Egypt into his State of the State Speech last night, as we'll hear in a moment. The last time Jerry Brown was governor, three decades ago, the state had problems, but nothing like today's economic meltdown. Governor Brown said it is possible to turn things around in his state, but not without inflicting some pain, as NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES: Jerry Brown is famous for being frugal with time and money, so it was no surprise when he spoke for only 14 minutes. He laid out his plan for fixing California's huge budget deficit with a combination of spending cuts and tax extensions.

Governor JERRY BROWN (Democrat, California): Do I like the choices we face? No, I don't like them. But after serious study of the options left by a $25 billion deficit, the budget I propose is the best that I can devise.

GONZALES: Extending some taxes that are due to expire later this year is crucial, Brown says, because without them, cuts in health, education and public safety will be even more painful. He urged Republicans to get on board and not obstruct his efforts to balance the budget.

Gov. BROWN: When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can't say now is the time to block vote of the people.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONZALES: Among the crowd of lawmakers gathered in the state capitol, there may have been some skeptics. But Brown faces an even bigger challenge persuading the public-at-large. That's important, since voters will have the final say on whether the governor's plan lives or dies.

In the Bay Area, one group of young, female professionals who gathered to hear Brown speech are among those who will have to be convinced.

Ms. NICOLE HOWELL (Volunteer Coordinator, Ombudsmen Services, San Mateo County): My name's Nicole Howell. I'm a volunteer coordinator for Ombudsmen Services of San Mateo County, and we work with residents in long term care.

GONZALES: Howell is a self-described moderate who was born around the time Jerry Brown was last governor. She says that by invoking the fear of more budget cuts, Brown failed to inspire her.

Ms. HOWELL: That's sort of what politicians always have. It's like, we're going to shut down universities. That's what we're going to do. But again, I don't feel like they're actually going to do that.

GONZALES: Twenty eight-year-old Grace Boone works for a group that builds the academic skills of young girls. She says she wouldn't support Brown's call for extending the state sales tax.

Ms. GRACE BOONE (Special Events Manager, Girls Incorporated of Alameda County): As a voter who has sort of kind of heard murmurs but doesn't really understand what all is happening, I didn't get a good understanding of why I should vote to extend the sales tax increase. That's one percent more. That's one percent more on top of my salary that's already been cut. I don't know why I should say yes to that, when I'm going to feel that pinch every day.

Ms. TEHSHAN LEE: I didn't hear anything about job creation.

GONZALES: Thirty six-year-old Tehshan Lee used to work for a health advocacy organization, and has been unemployed for the past seven months.

Ms. LEE: It was all about, you know, balancing the budget. It was - yeah. There was nothing about job creation or helping people look for jobs, or get people back into the employment sector.

GONZALES: Her friend, 29-year-old Laura Traferro, a grant writer, was equally pessimistic. Like a lot of young professionals here, she finds it difficult to get a piece of the American dream that people a generation ago took for granted.

Ms. LAURA TRAFERRO (Grant Writer): I just want California to be a place where you want to come here, you want to go to school, you want to buy a house, you want to raise a family - you can do that stuff. And right now, I look at the future, and I don't think I can do that stuff living here.

GONZALES: Traferro says she has high hopes, but was disappointed with the governor's speech. She says it gave her no reason to think that life in California will change anytime soon.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

(Soundbite of music)

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