California’s Propositions: Prop. 30

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Photo by Chris Campbell

It’s enough to make a diligent citizen’s head spin. Californians are being asked to vote up or down on 11 statewide ballot measures next month. It’s a dizzying array of issues ranging from school funding and genetically modified foods to the death penalty and campaign finance reform, and KCRW will be trying to help listeners make sense of it all. The most hotly contested measure on the November 6th ballot might just be Proposition 30.,  Governor Jerry Brown’s package of proposed tax increases.

Depending on who you believe, Proposition 30 is the either the last great hope for public education in California or a six-billion-dollar tax boondoogle at a time when the state can least afford it.

What we do know is that if Gov. Brown’s high-risk gambit fails, state law calls for more than $5 billion dollars in automatic cuts to grade schools and public universities that have already lost billions to budget slashing in recent years. The governor is staking his legacy on Californians being willing to dig a little deeper to keep schools from falling off a financial cliff.  “It’s whether the most privileged and blessed people in our state will pay one or two or three percent more for seven years,” said Governor Brown. “Or we cut three weeks of school and take a half-a-billion from our colleges.”

The governor and the state Democratic Party call Prop. 30 a modest and moderate proposal that would let California balance its budget without additional borrowing. It would increase state income taxes on families earning more than $250 thousand a year for seven years. The state sales tax would also go up by a quarter cent for four years. Those new revenue sources are expected to bring in about $6 billion a year.

Not surprisingly, the initiative is overwhelmingly favored by teachers, education groups and organized labor. It also has some unlikely supporters, including a bunch of chambers of commerce in the state.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and other anti-tax groups have been leading a well-financed charge against Prop. 30. Opponents say the state’s fragile economy would suffer under a new tax increase. They accuse Gov. Brown of manipulating voters by setting up automatic education cuts if Prop. 30 doesn’t pass. And they say there’s no guarantee – despite the governor’s claims – that most of the new revenue will go to schools.

In one of the election’s odd turns, Prop. 30 has come under attack from opposite ends of the political spectrum by members of the same family. Stanford physicist Charles Munger Jr. has contributed millions to a Super Pac airing anti-Prop. 30 ads. His sister, L.A. attorney Molly Munger, has spent $30 million dollars of her fortune backing Proposition 38 – a rival tax measure that aims to raise even more money for education. Until last week, Molly Munger’s team was running ads sharply critical of Prop. 30.

UT San Diego editorial writer Chris Reed says there’s much to criticize: beginning with what he calls Prop. 30’s failure to address the underlying problems that led to California’s deep deficits. “The purpose of public education in California is to prop up the adult employees, not to help the kids,” said Reed. “This status-quo has got to stop. And it means chaos for a year, that is not that big a price to pay.”

Los Angeles School Superintendent John Deasy could not disagree more strongly. He says the loss of funding would have a devastating effect on current students and cause long-term harm to LAUSD and public education in general. “If Prop. 30 were to fail, we would we have an immediate cut of approximately $255 million, which is on top of the 557 million we already cut,” said Deasy.

Two weeks before Election Day, the fate of Proposition 30 is very much up in the air. A recent Field Poll found support among likely voters at 51 percent.