In the midst of these economic hard times that mercilessly batter us, California's issue that dwarfs all others is how we are going to pay for our government.
Whether it be municipal governments, local school districts or the state itself, the boat is leaking badly. While hoping for the economy to improve, most jurisdictions have been bailing water for several years now, ironically using the can they have been kicking down the road. That is not a responsible strategy.
We can argue how we got here, but we believe it comes from a witch's brew of government excess, unfair special-interest influence, irresponsible ballot-box budgeting all seasoned with a healthy measure of incompetent leadership.
Now, as the cauldron continues to bubble dangerously close to overflowing, the state's voters are being asked to dip into their pockets in two separate and competing ballot propositions.
Proposition 30 is championed by Gov. Jerry Brown as a necessary, relatively short-term measure to give government the breathing room it needs to make needed reforms.
Proposition 38 is advanced by lawyer and civil rights advocate Molly Munger and it would target the tax money it raises to dramatically boost education spending.
We have taken our time to examine both of these measures because we believe them to be the most important that will be faced by California voters this year.
Frankly, the temptation is to deal with both in the same editorial, but they are complex and the issue of funding government is so vital to the state's future that we believe each deserves its own consideration.
Today, we recommend voting against Proposition 38 and we plan to offer our analysis on Proposition 30 next Sunday.
Munger genuinely believes that the state must dramatically boost education spending and that her plan is the way to do it. We do not agree.
Proposition 38 would increase income taxes a small amount on middle-income families, and much more on the wealthy, generating about $10 billion a year through 2024. For the first four years, $3 billion would go to the general fund, the rest to K-12 schools and early childhood education. After that, all the money would go to education.
Proposition 38 sends a specific amount per student -- more for those who are poor -- directly to schools, not districts; no money can be used to increase teacher salaries.
These sound like reasonable priorities, but we believe districts need more flexibility, not less. This is more of the ballot-box budgeting that helped usher in the current public finance purgatory.
Proposition 38 also sets aside a pot of money for technology and teacher training at each school. Sending money for technology and training through individual schools, with equal amounts for each student, is a recipe for waste. Some schools have new equipment, while others have machines that are barely functional.
The existing school funding system is a mess and it must be dramatically reformed, but we fear Proposition 38 will only complicate matters. The need is urgent, but not so urgent that voters should approve a funding scheme that could end up wasting precious taxpayer dollars. Vote no on Proposition 38.