Congress cannot push schools off fiscal cliff 

It is time for people who are concerned about education funding cuts to update their government-spending lexicon about the next threat to take money away from our schools.

In the months leading up to Election Day, the public was told to worry about “trigger cuts.” Those were the cuts that Gov. Jerry Brown built into the state budget that would automatically go into effect if voters rejected Proposition 30, a tax measure.

But voters recognized that the $6 billion in trigger cuts would be devastating to the state, and they agreed to temporarily increase the sales tax slightly and also raise the income tax on people earning more than $250,000 per year.

Crisis adverted, right?

Wrong.

After the hangover cleared from election celebrations (or, for some of you, the funeral wakes), a new concern arrived to replace those trigger cuts in our nightmares: the fiscal cliff. This is a pending collision of federal tax increases and spending cuts due to occur in January. Of key concern to school budgets are the spending cuts, which could mean a $4 billion annual decrease in nationwide funding. In The City, the San Francisco Unified School District could lose $5.4 million in funds.

The automatic cuts were proposed when Democrats and Republicans could not reach a genuine agreement on spending. So they both proposed cuts that the other side absolutely could not stand, such as 10 percent reductions in military spending and education. The idea was that Congress would have to act since members of both parties wouldn’t stand by as their favored programs were decimated.

Some congressional leaders and other political pundits believe the best idea is to let the country go off of this cliff, so that lawmakers will discover how bad their decision was and learn from it. The problem with that glib assessment is that real people are the pawns in this game of financial chess.

California dodged one bullet by passing Prop. 30. We shouldn’t let our lawmakers play Russian roulette with other critical government services.

When incoming California State University system Chancellor Timothy P. White’s salary was set, it was going to be the $421,500 that his predecessor earned. And Wednesday, the CSU board would have rubber-stamped that salary — except that White asked for less.

In a letter to the board, White asked that his salary be decreased by about 10 percent. With state funding for the CSU system down roughly $800 million during the past four years, this $41,500 in annual savings on the chancellor’s salary will not save the system. But it is a gesture that workers and students in the 23-campus system should appreciate.

Boards of both state university systems recently delayed votes that would have increased tuition, and now White has asked that his pay be decreased. Perhaps our state’s educational administrators have realized that they have a real problem on their hands. Only time will tell if they are capable of coming up with the creative solutions that the present crisis requires. White’s grand gesture is a fine start.

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