California Propositions: Prop. 38

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By Bruno Girin, Flickr

We continue our series on state propositions with Prop. 38, a measure that aims to reverse the damage of a half-decade of budget slashing by raising $10 billion a year for California schools.

If Governor Jerry Brown is staking his political legacy on Proposition 30, then L.A. civil rights attorney Molly Munger is staking a large chunk of her personal fortune on Proposition 38. Two weeks before Election Day, that total is $31 million and counting.

“Prop. 38 is going to bring back all the things that we’ve lost,” said Munger. “We’re now 47th in the country in per pupil spending. It’s a hall of shame that we really shouldn’t be living in as Californians.”

Props. 30 and 38 both aim to shore up public education in California by raising taxes, but they take different approaches. Prop. 30, endorsed by the governor, would raise income taxes on the wealthiest residents in the state for seven years, and also raise the state sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years. Prop. 38, on the other hand, would raise income taxes on all but the poorest Californians for a dozen years. Most of that $10 billion annual windfall would go straight to the classroom, with a smaller portion being used to pay down debt on education-related bonds.

Despite their similar goals, a bitter divide has evolved between supporters of Props 30 and 38. The governor tried unsuccessfully to persuade Munger to keep her measure off the ballot. Brown’s initiative is backed by the state Democratic Party and the editorial boards of the state’s major newspapers, including the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and San Jose Mercury News. Prop. 38 has the endorsement of the California State PTA and numerous school boards, many of which are also backing Prop. 30.

Opposing Prop. 38 are many of the anti-tax groups that are fighting Prop. 30. But Prop. 38 has also drawn the antipathy of Prop. 30 supporters. They say Munger’s measure confuses voters and increases the chances of both being defeated. One opponent is Lisa Folberg,  vice president of medical and regulatory policy with the California Medical Association.  She said Prop. 38 ignores the fact that billions that have also been slashed from other state programs and that Prop.38 denies the state the flexibility it needs to deal with budget deficits. “If we had endless revenue, yes let’s absolutely spend more money on education,” said Folberg. “And we hope that will happen through Prop. 30 as well. But what we don’t want to do is lock that in without any consideration of any other budget funding priority.”

And then there’s the question of what happens if both 30 and 38 pass. Prop. 38 contains language saying the measure with the most votes takes precedent. But Sacramento Bee senior editor Dan Morain said it will likely take litigation to sort it out. “Because there are different provisions, they cover different aspects,” Morain said. “Munger’s is an income tax increase. Brown’s is partially an income tax increase, so, part of it though is sales tax increase so I suppose it’s conceivable that the income taxes in Munger’s initiative if it were to get more votes would take effect, while the sales tax increase in Brown’s could also take effect.”

But that’s for the future. Right now The Yes on 38 team is focusing on making up a substantial deficit in the polls. Munger insists Proposition 38 is the best hope for hiring back laid off teacher and reducing class size. And she says it will demonstrate Californians commitment to early education and to restoring science labs, arts and other programs that have fallen to victim to $20 billion in budget cuts.

“When we let the funding get so low, you raise an entire generation of kids in an environment where they never see what they should be getting,” Munger said. “We establish a new normal. So the harm is done not only to that generation, but to future generations to come. Because the overall standard for the state becomes so low.”