Gov. Jerry Brown's plan has big effects for San Luis Obispo County

No cuts in K-12 grade schools. But a 38 percent increase in fees at Cuesta College. Likely lower enrollment at Cal Poly, and fewer classes and services for students.

More inmates at County Jail instead of state prisons.

Cities losing some powers to control economic development.

These are just some of the ripple effects in San Luis Obispo County of cuts in Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget.

Brown is also betting on voters’ approval to extend — for another five years — sales, income and car tax increases that the Legislature and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put in place in 2009.

Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, opposes Brown’s plan to ask voters to extend the tax increases, which the Legislature must put before a statewide special election. State Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said he’ll evaluate all options on their merits before making a decision.

K-12 schools

Brown’s proposed budget avoids large cuts for schools.

Julian Crocker, San Luis Obispo County superintendent of schools, called the proposal “cautiously good news” for local school districts, but he said schools could still see cuts if voters reject the continuation of the tax increases.

“(Brown) is attempting to at least maintain our current funding,” Crocker said, “so that’s certainly positive.”

The county’s 10 districts and its Office of Education have cut about $45 million in the past two years, Crocker estimates. That has resulted in teacher layoffs, increased class sizes and the loss of programs and services.

If voters don’t extend the tax increases, it could lead to more cuts of up to $21 million for local school districts, he said.

Higher education

A proposed $10 per unit community college fee increase — 38 percent — would raise student fees to $36 a unit from the current $26 fee at Cuesta College.

At Cuesta, about 70 percent of students are eligible for fee waivers because of a financial need. The proposed fee increase would not affect those students.

And likely, it would trigger more students to qualify for assistance, Cuesta President Gil Stork said.

Brown’s proposal also seeks to change the way that enrollment is counted, decreasing the amount of state funding given to community colleges per student.

“That is the recommendation that we know the least about,” said Stork, adding that college administrators are in the process of determining what the impact might be.

Currently, a snapshot of student enrollment is taken on the third Monday of each semester to officially define the number enrolled.

Brown’s proposal suggests doing a similar snapshot later in the semester in order to gain a clearer understanding of how many students drop out. State funding would then be reduced accordingly.

“We have to serve those students no matter how long they are with us,” Stork said. “The only way to regain enrollment is to increase the number of (course) sections, and we don’t have the funding to do so.”

Blakeslee, a former member of the Board of Trustees at Cuesta College, said he supports Brown’s proposal to change the way the head count is calculated.

He said Brown’s proposal “will reward community colleges for student retention.”

Leaders of the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges say the proposed $1.4 billion statewide reduction in higher education spending could require them to raise tuition, turn away qualified students and take other cost-cutting measures.

Under Brown’s proposal for, the 10-campus UC system and 23-campus CSU system would each lose $500 million in state funding. The state would cut funding to its 112 community colleges by $400 million and raise student fees to generate an additional $110 million.

Cal Poly officials said Monday that the effects locally of a proposed 18 percent cut in CSU funding are not yet known but would likely result in lower enrollment and fewer classes and services for students already enrolled.

Larry Kelley, Cal Poly’s vice president for administration and finance, said the university has seen about 23 percent in cuts already.

He added that the effects of the proposal will likely not been known for about a month as administrators work to define them.

Social, health services

Speaking in general terms about Brown’s proposals, county Social Services Director Lee Collins said that during budget discussions, “unfortunately, we are operating in a context where reason is not the currency.”

When people speak of slashing government, Collins said, they often target people served by his agency — the poor, the disabled and others who are having trouble financially and are being helped by the government.

“Decisions have consequences,” he said. “It is not clear, though, what consequences result when families are tossed off public assistance programs, or elderly shut-ins are denied services that keep them out of institutional care, or medical care is denied to the very ill.”

Collins stressed that “this budget document has a great deal of asterisks and ‘if, thens’ in it.”

Other county officials generally declined to comment, saying they need time to digest Brown’s proposal.

“The devil is in the details,” county Health Director Jeff Hamm said Monday. “It’s way too early to draw any conclusions about the governor’s conceptual proposals.”

Effect on County Jail

Brown’s proposed budget could increase the number of inmates at the San Luis Obispo County Jail and possibly affect several Sheriff’s Department’s programs.

Under Brown’s proposal, local residents with low-level offenses, such as property crimes, who are sentenced to state prisons would instead serve their time in County Jail — a proposal that Sheriff Ian Parkinson said could increase the jail’s population by 100 to 120 inmates.

The change would be phased in over 18 months, Parkinson said, but it’s too soon to know how much the state would reimburse the county. It costs about $85 a day to house an inmate.

The County Jail has an average population of about 550 inmates and is at capacity. The women’s jail expansion project before county supervisors is intended to deal with overcrowding.

Parkinson said other programs, such as house arrest and early release, need to be studied to deal with Brown’s proposed change.

The Sheriff’s Department also receives about $1 million through the vehicle license fee surcharge that’s set to expire June 30.

If that funding is cut, Parkinson said, programs such as crime prevention in rural areas and checking on the status of registered sex offenders would be affected.

City leaders concerned

The governor’s proposal to phase out redevelopment agencies has local city officials worried.

Five cities in San Luis Obispo County have redevelopment agencies: Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Grover Beach, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach.

Cities and counties may form redevelopment agencies that use a portion of property taxes to revitalize areas deemed as blighted.

“We see redevelopment agencies as one of the few things in California that’s actually putting jobs in cities,” Atascadero City Manager Wade McKinney said.

The city formed its agency in 1999 and has funded work on public infrastructure, commercial programs and low-income housing projects, he said.

Brown proposes to shift the taxes redevelopment agencies receive to schools, cities and counties to help pay for public safety, education and other services.

Local officials are awaiting to see whether Proposition 22 — approved by California voters in November — affects Brown’s proposal, said David Mullinax, regional public affairs manager for the League of California Cities’ Channel Counties Division.

Proposition 22 forbids the state from taking property tax revenue and redevelopment funds from cities, counties and special districts.

Legislators’ reaction

Central Coast representatives in Sacramento reacted negatively to Brown’s proposals, with Blakeslee accusing Brown of “relying on the failed policies of the past.”

In a statement, Blakeslee said that “this budget is troublingly similar to the failed proposals of the Schwarzenegger administration.”

Achadjian wrote in a statement, “Lawmakers and the governor should focus on further reductions in state spending rather than proposing any extension of the 2009 taxes that were already rejected by voters,” referring to a defeated extension that was on the November ballot.

However, Blakeslee and Achadjian said they were open to working with the governor, and Blakeslee declined to unequivocally oppose Brown putting an extension of current taxes on the ballot.

Blakeslee “will evaluate all options on their merits without pre-pledging his vote for or against any specific elements of the governor’s proposals,” his office said in a statement.

Of so-called “realignment,” or shifting of responsibilities back to local governments, Blakeslee’s staff wrote that he thinks “the state may need to permanently relinquish some of its financial resources to local governments and schools if their responsibilities are going to be increased.”

Tribune staff writers AnnMarie Cornejo, Bob Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed.

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