Calif. Voters Forced To Choose How To Ease Defict

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Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown says the state's budget deficit is now $16 billion. That's almost double the figure he gave in January. Brown is attempting to force voters to choose between higher taxes and deeper spending cuts.

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California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to convince voters to accept two things they don't like: higher taxes, and deep spending cuts. The Democrat proposed a budget yesterday which would only be the start of the pain. The other part would come in November, with a ballot measure to raise taxes and spare education. Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler reports from Sacramento.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: If Democrats' nightmares involve chopping days off the school year, and Republicans' nightmares involve higher taxes, Jerry Brown's new budget proposal has something to keep everyone tossing and turning. Here's how the Democratic governor justified making $8 billion in cuts - to welfare, child care, college financial aid, health care for the poor, and state worker compensation.

GOV. JERRY BROWN: While the short-term pain is real, I think the greater good is to balance the revenue with the spending; and that's what I'm committed to doing as quickly as that becomes possible. But is it going to be a hard sell? Yes.

ADLER: The other part of his proposal could be an even harder sell. Brown says California's $16 billion deficit can't be balanced by cuts alone.

BROWN: And that's why I'm linking the serious budget reductions - real, increased austerity - with a plea to the voters: Please increase taxes temporarily.

ADLER: Both the income tax on the wealthiest Californians, and a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax. If that ballot measure fails, Brown's budget proposal includes $6 billion more in cuts - the vast majority of which would hit education. School districts would lose money equivalent to three weeks of classes. And California's public universities would have to raise tuition or reduce enrollment.

JENNIFER GREPPI: They say cut back.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: We say fight back.

GREPPI: They say cut back.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: We say fight back.

ADLER: Criticism immediately poured in from all sides, including from Jennifer Greppi, who rallied with several dozen people on the Capitol steps. She's upset with Brown's proposed changes to child-care grants and California's welfare-to-work system.

GREPPI: I was able to go back to school, to be able to get a job that was going to be able pay me enough money to support my family after my husband passed away. And budgets like this take that dream away from families.

ADLER: Greppi says even the governor's first round of proposed cuts - the ones he's calling for, regardless of what voters do this fall - are off base. She says the state should close its deficit by increasing taxes on corporations.

The response was just as harsh inside the building. Jon Coupal, with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, declared the governor's ballot measure dead on arrival.

JON COUPAL: Until there is major movement in reforms, California voters will not accept higher taxes. California voters have rejected the last seven proposed statewide tax increases. They're going to reject the ones in November as well.

ADLER: Even Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, about as close to an ally as the governor has inside the Capitol, signaled he has problems with Brown's proposal.

STATE SEN. DARRELL STEINBERG: We are not looking for a big public fight over the next month. But we will work assertively with the governor, and the Assembly, to find some alternatives to the most egregious cuts.

ADLER: Public or not, the budget debate will rage on - first at the Capitol, over the next few weeks; and then, all the way to November when one way or another, California voters will settle it.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento.

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