If the people at Assemblywoman Betsy Butler's interactive budget workshop on Thursday had their way, they'd fix California's budget deficit by raising taxes, renegotiating pensions and cutting $1 billion from the University of California and California State University systems.
The workshop is based on Next 10's online California Budget Challenge, which allows people to try their hand at balancing California's budget by choosing ideas to implement, such as raising the sales tax or cutting funding to community colleges. Next 10 is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about California's budget.
In Thursday's workshop at in Redondo Beach, attendees were given options on a particular topic, such as Medi-Cal. After selecting an option, they cast their vote, using clickers provided by Next 10.
The exercise "allows people to have an opportunity to participate" in the budget process, said Butler, whose 53rd Assembly District includes Redondo Beach. Butler said she participated in a similar workshop when she first got to Sacramento.
By cutting funding to the state's community colleges and universities, instituting a slight hike in the income tax rate to fund K-12 education, reinstating the upper-income tax brackets, and increasing the corporate tax rate, participants ended up with a $1.4-billion surplus for a rainy day.
"I was glad that we came up with a surplus," said Redondo Beach resident Elaine Cherlin.
Attendee Terry Ragins, a school board member in Torrance, said she was gratified that people at the meeting voted for "revenue enhancement."
"I do think we have huge financial issues," she said, adding that some legislators seemed to be "afraid to ask taxpayers to fund the services they prefer to have."
Not everyone agreed.
While finding the workshop "helpful," Redondo Beach resident Monet Castaneda said there was "too much talk about tax increases."
After the workshop, Butler took to the floor to answer questions and talk about California's budget.
She said she had favored Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to allow voters to decide whether to continue the temporary tax hikes, but with that now off the table, she's against an all-cuts budget.
"There isn't a lot of money," she said. "They're going to close fire stations. It's not going to be pretty."
Nevertheless, if the state Legislature makes cuts now, it won't have to make them next year, Butler said.
At least one attendee wasn't satisfied.
"I think I didn't get the detail [I wanted]," said Torrance resident Ron Lee after the meeting.
Nevertheless, it's "important to come to things like this," said Karen Komatinsky, an incoming member of the Manhattan Beach school board.
This won't be Butler's last town hall meeting in the area. She said she has one or two more planned for May.
"These are particularly challenging times," she said.