Politics & Government

To balance its next budget, California needs $20.7 billion

California once again will look under sofa cushions and scour every sector of state government to find another $20.7 billion to balance its budget over the next 19 months.

This time, however, state leaders won't be able to reap savings from some of the state's largest spending categories.

California can't touch most funding for K-12 schools or colleges because the state already is spending close to a minimum amount required by the federal government. The state can't cut Medi-Cal until January 2011 for the same reason. Those programs make up more than half the state's $84.6 billion general fund budget.

"We cannot reduce those areas very much more, so that closes off a very big piece of your budget," said nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, who released his $20.7 billion deficit projection Wednesday.

The news brings relief to education groups, but it puts more pressure on other programs that lack federal spending requirements. State leaders likely will pursue additional cuts in prisons, state parks and social service programs not associated with federal spending requirements or matching funds.

The legislative analyst's report assumes that three-a-month state worker furloughs would end in June. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could seek to extend them further, pending the outcome of court challenges.

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