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Forget bickering over original sin & worry about moving forward

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POSTED February 14, 2009 5:42 a.m.
I don’t like the idea of a penny increase in sales tax. I am not wild about an additional 12-cent a gallon tax on gasoline. Nor does the thought of increasing the annual vehicle license fees over 70% thrill me.

I do understand, though, that it has to be done. The most the three tax increases plus a number of smaller tax jumps will do is raise $15 billion over the next five years. That isn’t going to cut it with a $42 billion state deficit over the next 18 months.

The proposal cobbled together in Sacramento to address the budget crisis has borrowing against future lottery receipts, asks voters to OK redirecting money authorized in previous statewide propositions, asks voters to readjust Proposition 98 in regards to education funding, and has cuts galore.

Among those cuts is $8.6 billion for public education over the next two years while giving local districts more flexibility in spending school dollars that have been restricted as to where they go.

It is painfully obvious that we can’t wait this mess out or can we afford to butcher every state service to the bone marrow nor is it wise to try and tax ourselves out of it.

There is a lot not to like about the pending budget deal in Sacramento but it is one of those things we have to do.

It is painfully obvious that class-size reduction is going to be history.  It is the single biggest thing the state can drop in the education budget and not drastically impact all public school students severely. I’m not arguing that more attention to kids isn’t be more effective. It is a luxury California can no longer afford.

Employee groups see the writing on the wall. The budget deal continues twice-a-month furloughs for 238,000 state workers and eliminates Lincoln’s Birthday and Columbus Day of paid holidays to save $1.4 billion overall.

It is obvious local government employees – just like many in the private sector – are going to have to absorb the hit in some manner. The question for the City of Manteca and for Manteca Unified School District is how to do it not just with minimum impact on the end product – providing municipal services or educating kids – but to do it in such a manner that we alter the way we’ve been doing business.

Nothing is going to be the same again. That is not necessarily a bad thing in the long haul. The short haul – the immediate budget crisis – is going to spread about a lot of pain.

When property taxes are now projected to drop between 15 and 20 percent in Manteca for the 2009 tax bills, that is not a good tiding for Manteca Unified since the lion’s share of property tax supports schools in California.

The board really needs to ice Lathrop High for now. They need to combine Calla High with New Vision High. They also should merge Nile Garden with Veritas and New Haven with Joshua Cowell.

They also have to prepare for the inevitable -  the loss of class-size reduction if not in the 2009-10 school year then in the following year.

The combining of the schools could squeeze out enough savings to allow the district to hire aides to replace the teachers to keep the ratio lower in the first, second and third grades.

To continue to hope against hope that somehow the state is going to cut $8.6 billion and make sure class-size reduction funding remains whole is insane. The numbers don’t support it.

Counting on the economy to come out of its current  mess in time to push property taxes back up by the start of the 2010-11 school year is the same as hoping Mother Nature will dump enough snow in the next six weeks to assure 100 percent water deliveries everywhere in California. Neither is going to happen.

It’s time to end the finger pointing. We’re all to blame for this to some degree – Republicans, Democrats, third party backers, independents and those who don’t vote. You’ll find people of every political stripe who got caught up in the housing euphoria with easy money that triggered the foreclosure mess as well as who used their homes like ATMs or used credit cards to stretch out paying out a dinner at Applebee’s over seven years.

None of us are so pure that we say we can stand on our own two feet without government services.

We need to get through this. The only way to do that is to look for solutions that work in the long-haul and to cut the bickering over who committed the original sin.

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