SACRAMENTO -- When Gov. Jerry Brown rolls out his spending blueprint Thursday, for the first time in years the announcement won't bear any resemblance to a funeral procession.
Yes, Brown will ask for about $2 billion in cuts to balance a general fund budget of more than $90 billion, but the level of pain will be a far cry from the devastating $25 billion in cuts he had to make two years ago and the $16 billion made just a year ago that sent many families reliant on state help to the edge of despair.
Along with a slowly improving economy, revenue boosts of about $6 billion annually from two tax-hike measures that passed in November, Propositions 30 and 39, have created a sense of optimism among budget watchers.
"It's not like we're flush with lots of cash to spend," said Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, a member of the Senate budget committee. "But it would be nice to think about how we can help California grow out of this and start rebuilding."
Still, Brown is doing everything he can to lower expectations as activists announced statewide plans to protest any proposed cuts to social services.
At a news conference Tuesday, the governor insisted that California remains on fiscal tenterhooks because it's yet to fully turn the economic corner.
"Most people want to spend more money than the state has, and I will tell you 2013 is the year of fiscal discipline and living within our means," Brown said. "By the way, living within our means means we don't get everything. People want to have more child care, they want to have more people locked up, they want to have more rehab -- more, more, more."
Schools and universities, however, are expected to see a reversal of the budget chopping that has decimated staffing, course offerings and services over the last half-decade. Because of the passage of Proposition 30, Brown's measure that raised the state sales tax and income taxes on the wealthy, K-12 education is expected to see state funding increased from $54 billion to $56 billion, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. The LAO is calling for the University of California and California State University to get $125 million each.
Total revenue for K-12 education has declined by $2.7 billion over the past five years.
Brown has signaled that he will redouble his efforts to transform school financing to give more money to schools that serve the poor and children who come from non-English speaking families. He will ask the Legislature to approve a plan to eliminate dozens of mandatory school programs to free up hundreds of millions of dollars to make that happen.
Last year, his proposal went nowhere because many suburban school leaders feared that what urban schools gained, they'd lose. But the $5.6 billion expected annually from Proposition 30 taxes has calmed some of those fears, and the Brown administration has tried to reassure school officials that the redistribution of money will be phased in gradually and more equitably than his earlier proposal.
"He's turning the current school finance system on its head," said Kevin Gordon, a school lobbyist. "He's shifting fundamentally to a school finance system that is intentionally biased to provide greater funding to kids in the poorest areas. ... It will be one of the very top issues of 2013 for the governor."
Pressure will come from advocates for the poor and elderly to restore funding from previous cuts to CalWORKs (the state's welfare agency), child care, in-home support services and health care for the poor and elderly.
New taxes on corporations, oil companies, and commercial property should be considered before making any more cuts on the poor, said Vanessa Aramayo, director of the California Partnership, a coalition of community-based organizations that will hold rallies across the state Thursday to demand that Brown avoid social service cuts.
"We're calling on the governor to listen to voters who believe funding is important in these areas and that they support raising revenues on the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share to cover these vital programs," Aramayo said.
More social service cuts could send families over the edge into poverty, said Chris Hoene, executive director of the left-leaning California Budget Project.
"We understand the need for a budget that has to be balanced," Hoene said. "But the cuts have been deep, there's a lot of people still struggling and their struggles are at risk of being made permanent if the state's safety net isn't there to help them ride out the effects of the recession."