Prop. 30: Our schools are being held hostage. The right thing to do is pay up -- then demand reformsThere's no doubt that the most important measure on the Nov. 6 ballot is Proposition 30. This is the governor's proposal to raise $6 billion a year in state revenue through a four-year, quarter-percent sales tax and a seven-year tax on the income of the wealthy.
If Proposition 30 doesn't pass, Gov. Jerry Brown and supporters say, then nearly $6 billion will be cut from the budgets of the state's public schools and universities on Nov. 7. The results will be catastrophic: Teachers across the state will be laid off; admissions at state colleges and universities will be cut; tuition at California State Universities will go up by $150 a semester; K-12 students will have their school years cut by more than a week, and the state's slowly recovering economy could be thrown into a tailspin.
And that's just in the first year. The cuts will continue until the economy significantly improves or the state finds a rich gold vein in one of its state parks.
It is this ultimatum -- pay up or the children will suffer -- that has given our editorial board the most trouble in taking a position.
On the one hand, this is a page that has criticized Sacramento's bad management of the state treasury. The principled stand is that Californians must refuse to bail lawmakers out of the financial hole they dug themselves. Let them reap the financial chaos they have sown and perhaps we will finally get some real budget reform for the state.
But what happens in the meantime to the education of our children? California already ranks among the lowest in per-pupil spending.
There's too much at stake to oppose this measure on principle, which is why we're recommending a yes vote.
Opponents have a two-point argument: One, that it's unlikely that all the trigger cuts will happen as threatened. The evidence for this comes from previous trigger cuts that were threatened but never materialized as deeply as threatened. That may be true, but even a $3 billion reduction in school funding would be devastating to our schools and our economy. It would put California at risk of having too few qualified workers in the next decade. That would further cripple our economic growth.
The second argument is that if Proposition 30 passes there would be no incentive for lawmakers to reform and restructure state government. Lawmakers would be, in essence, bailed out and free to ignore the state's ongoing financial issues. That doesn't make sense. This is a stopgap measure that only backfills lost revenue, and doesn't come close to fixing Sacramento's inherently problematic spending structure. It's up to voters to press their representatives for more fiscal reform.
Critics of Proposition 30 are correct that California's taxes are high -- but the revenue from this initiative represents just over half of what was lost when three other taxes expired in 2010 and 2011. The overall tax burden will still be lower than it was two years ago. General fund spending will be $11.6 billion lower than five years ago and will represent the same share of the economy as in 1972-73, according to the department of finance. This is not profligate spending.
The most convincing arguments in favor came from one of our own editorial board members who was a high school student when Proposition 13 passed in 1978. This historic tax measure did much to reform the state's wildly unfair property tax -- but it came with real fallout. For a few years, schools and other public institutions were starved, programs for high achievers in public schools were cut -- as was any other thing possible. A generation of school kids found their education forever altered by that decision.
Yes, our schools are being held hostage. The right thing to do is pay up -- and then demand that the reforms begun in Sacramento this year with pension and workers' comp reform continue. Proposition 30 lets our children -- not lawmakers -- off the hook. Vote yes.
No on Proposition 38Competing with Proposition 30 on the Nov. 6 ballot is Proposition 38, another tax that purports to do a better job funding education in California. It was put on the ballot by one wealthy patron, civil rights advocate Molly Munger.
It would increase income taxes on the wealthy and, by a small amount, those in the middle, generating about $10 billion a year through 2024. For four years, $3 billion of it would go to the general fund. Then all of it would go to education.
The problem is how it would get there. The measure layers a new funding and budgeting system on top of one that's already too complex. It would send money directly to schools, not districts -- even money for technology. That would be crazy. Some schools have all new iPads, while others have a few old desktops here and there.
And this isn't a temporary fix like Proposition 30; it's forever.
Even schools aren't thrilled about Proposition 38, noting that the state's trigger cuts would still occur leaving them without critical funding after the first 18 months.
This kind of ballot-box budgeting is bad policy. Voters should reject Proposition 38.