San Jose Mercury News
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. 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 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.
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.
Proposition 38’s patron, civil rights advocate Molly Munger, argues persuasively for a big boost in school spending. But her plan is bad policy.
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.
The money can’t be used to increase teacher salaries. But that’s often what’s needed to attract talented instructors to under-achieving schools.
Tax dollars for schools should go to local districts, which see the big picture and have boards that are accountable to voters.
If Proposition 38 passes and 30 fails, schools and higher education could be cut significantly. And while Proposition 38 says the Legislature can’t take away general fund money to offset this new tax, we are unconvinced.
Proposition 38 includes one great policy idea: boosting preschool spending, perhaps the best investment taxpayers can make. But overall, districts need more flexibility in spending, not less.
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.
Munger argues that even if broad reform is needed, kids can’t wait. The need is urgent, but there’s never a good reason to enact bad policy. Vote yes on 30 and no on 38.
For more information visit yesonprop30.com
Paid for by Yes on Prop. 30–to Protect our Schools and Public Safety, a broad coalition of business, labor, law enforcement, teachers and Governor Brown. Major funding by California Teachers Association/Issues PAC and California Hospitals Committee on Issues (CHCI) Sponsored by California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (CAHHS).