CON PROP. 30: Is it crucial for higher education?

[Read the argument for Prop. 30 here]

On Nov. 6, California taxpayers will once again be asked to bail out Sacramento. As the Orange County Register points out, years of fiscal mismanagement means these “will be the 12th, 13th and 14th times over the past decade that Californians are being asked to increase their taxes.”

Bold leadership in times of financial crisis is necessary; consider New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “Last year, by working together and putting the people first, we managed to close a $10 billion budget deficit with no new taxes,” he said. Cuomo’s plan demonstrated a self-described desire to change New York politics “from the special interest focus to focus on the people.”

Jerry Brown, sadly, fails to move away from that “special interest focus” in introducing Proposition 30, a $50 billion tax on all Californians — including a regressive 3 percent sales tax increase on the poor, the middle class and the wealthy alike — that serves only to empower those interests who would maintain the status quo in Sacramento.

According to a February 2011 study conducted by Pepperdine University, despite a 24.9 percent increase in total school spending per capita over a five-year period, “Direct classroom expenditures statewide dropped from 59 percent of total expenditures” to as low as 45 percent. With less than 50 cents of every education dollar finding its way to classrooms, California ranked 46th in the nation in reading and math scores in 2011.

If these past funding increases did not make it to our classrooms, are we to believe that Proposition 30, officially titled “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding,” will not similarly be directed elsewhere?  Prop 30 guarantees it will pay for prisons. Tellingly, it makes no such guarantees for education.

Independent journalists share this assessment. Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee makes this point in an analysis of a misleading pro-Proposition 30 commercial: “A new ad for Jerry Brown’s tax measure Proposition 30 was aired this week and it said … money would go to schools, it would be in a lockbox that the politicians couldn’t touch. Which isn’t true.”

Indeed, the Los Angeles Times acknowledges, “The result [of Proposition 30] would be about a $3 billion increase in annual spending on schools and about $3 billion freed up in the general fund for other state priorities.”

The Sacramento Bee offers this analogy:

“You spend $400 a month on groceries [and] for your birthday, your mom gives you a $200 gift card to Joe’s Groceries. … You can’t spend that gift card anywhere else. However, because you now have $200 in a Joe’s Groceries gift card, you only need to spend $200 of your own money on groceries rather than $400. That frees up $200 to spend elsewhere, maybe on car repairs you’ve been putting off.”

The California State PTA doesn’t appear to believe Sacramento will spend these new “education” tax dollars in the classroom, either. They are backing a competing education tax on the ballot, Proposition 38, which the Los Angeles Times describes as “akin to a no-confidence vote for Sacramento; the money [Proposition 38] would raise for schools would … bypass the Legislature and state education officials.”

But Proposition 38 itself is flawed; an even more draconian tax hike than Proposition 30, it would increase taxes on income over $7,316 — an income tax hike on virtually all Californians. With 10.6 percent of Californians unemployed and 20.3 percent underemployed, increasing taxes increases the burden on working families. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have opposed raising taxes on these same families, and former President Bill Clinton recently said, “I personally don’t believe we ought to be raising taxes … until we get this economy off the ground.”

Missing from the education recipe in Sacramento isn’t more funding — it’s bold leadership. Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who, without raising taxes this year, increased school funding by $250 million — an increase for every school district in the state — reminds us that “more money on its own will not fix our education system … [rather] education reforms to fundamentally change public education, focused on achieving results for children, rewarding excellence in the classroom and demanding accountability throughout the system.”

Jerry Brown must follow in the footsteps of Democratic and Republican governors alike who have taken back their education systems from the special interests and instituted meaningful reform. In rejecting Sacramento’s latest taxpayer-funded bailout plan, California voters will send the long overdue message that we reject the special-interest-dominated status quo of Sacramento. 

Vote “no” on Proposition 30.

Arie Lipnick is the California regional director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (