Rarely do ballot measures present as important or challenging a choice as Propositions 30 and 38 on the November ballot. Both would levy taxes, and both promise help for public schools, which most Californians realize are crucial to the state's economy. In fact, California's financial stability may be at stake in this election. The wrong tax directing money in the wrong way could speed the state's decline.
We are reluctant to recommend raising any taxes during this plodding economic recovery. But the state of our schools, now near the bottom nationally in per-pupil funding, places California at risk of having too few qualified workers in the next decade. That would further cripple our economic growth.
Proposition 30 is no substitute for long-term reforms in education funding, pensions and other areas, but it is a measured and sensible response to this crisis. As we said last Sunday, Proposition 38 would raise more money for schools overall but would pile on bureaucracy and restrict flexibility.
We recommend voting yes on Proposition 30 and no on Proposition 38.
Proposition 30 is Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to raise the sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years and raise income taxes on high earners for seven. That will provide about $6 billion a year almost entirely for schools, community colleges and the Cal State and UC systems. The money is included in this year's budget, so if 30 fails, it will trigger deep cuts in the school year, higher college tuition and fewer seats in community colleges. Some argue cuts could be made outside of education, but there are few options left.
California's taxes are high -- but the revenue from Proposition 30 represents just more than 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.
California needs broad tax reform. It should rely less on the volatile income tax, and it should lower the sales tax rate but broaden it to apply to services as well as goods. For now, temporarily raising income taxes on high earners is reasonable -- they're the only group doing well these days -- and the small sales tax increase spreads the burden to all.
Existing school funding formulas are a mess. Wealthy districts with engaged parents often receive thousands more dollars per student than schools in low-income areas with far greater needs.
Earlier this year, Brown proposed sensible reforms that would direct a per-child allocation to each district, with more for high-need populations, and eliminate most restrictions on how money can be spent. It went nowhere, but we hope he tries again.
The need for school funding reform is urgent, but there's never a good reason to enact bad policy. Vote yes on 30 and no on 38.
Go to www.insidebayarea.com/endorsements to see our latest voter recommendations.