California's budget deficit has swelled to a projected $16 billion — much larger than had been predicted just months ago — and will force severe cuts to schools and public safety if voters fail to approve tax increases in November, Gov. Jerry Brown said Saturday.
The Democratic governor said the shortfall grew from $9.2 billion in January in part because tax collections have not come in as high as expected and the economy isn't growing as fast as hoped for. The deficit has also risen because lawsuits and federal requirements have blocked billions of dollars in state cuts.
Brown did not release details of the newly calculated deficit Saturday, but he is expected to lay out a revised spending plan Monday. The new plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 hinges in large part on voters approving higher taxes.
The governor has said those tax increases are needed to help pull the state out of a crippling decade shaped by the collapse of the housing market and recession. Without them, he warned, public schools and colleges, and public safety, will suffer deeper cuts.
Democrats, who control the Legislature, have resisted Brown's proposed cuts so far this year. Republican lawmakers criticized the majority party for building in overly optimistic tax revenues.
"Today's news underscores how we must rein in spending and let our economy grow by leaving overburdened taxpayers alone," said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway in a statement.
The governor pursued a ballot initiative because Republican lawmakers would not provide the votes needed to reach the two-thirds legislative majority required to raise taxes.
Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, acknowledged that lawmakers have "limited and difficult choices left to solve the deficit." Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he wasn't surprised by the deficit spike given that state tax revenue have fallen $3.5 billion below projections in the current year.
"We will deal with it," Steinberg said Saturday. "And we know that more cuts are inevitable but we will do our very, very best to save more than we lose, especially for those in need."
Under Brown's tax plan, California would temporarily raise the state's sales tax by a quarter-cent and increase the income tax on people who make $250,000 or more. Brown is projecting his tax initiative would raise as much as $9 billion, but a review by the nonpartisan analyst's office estimates revenue of $6.8 billion in fiscal year 2012-13.