The Prop 98 disappearing act

Vetoed budget had an end-run around law
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When Gov. Brown vetoed the budget yesterday, he also halted one of the “legally questionable maneuvers” referred to in his veto message, in which legislators attempted to ignore the constitutional funding requirements of Proposition 98. Analysts at the education consulting firm School Services of California said they were reviewing the numbers in the budget bill when they noticed something was missing from the Prop 98 guarantee – more  $1 billion.

In a video conversation and an article for their clients, Vice President Robert Miyashiro and Associate Vice President Michael Ricketts describe how the Legislature essentially suspended Proposition 98 without the constitutionally mandated two-thirds vote.

The governor’s May revise assumed that the Legislature would extend temporary taxes, bringing in about $4 billion for the next fiscal year. Without that revenue, the Proposition 98 portion owed to the schools would drop by about $1.6 billion. “Any greater reduction in Proposition 98 funding for schools, whether through cuts or deferrals, would require a suspension of the guarantee,” requiring Democratic and Republican votes to reach the two-thirds threshold for suspension, they write in their article.  To balance the budget, the Democrats proposed deferring $2.85 billion, an additional $1 billion.

Like the best of illusions, this one appeared to fund K-12 education without any new cuts, at about $50.4 billion. At the same time, however, legislators raised the amount deferred into the 2012-13 school year by nearly $3 billion, about a billion more than the governor first proposed.

“We think this is a very troubling precedent,” Miyashiro said in the video. In the 23 years since voters approved Prop 98, it has been suspended twice, he noted, “but never has the legislature simply ignored the two-thirds vote requirement for suspension and underfunded the guarantee.”

How can they do this? Apparently, it’s not difficult. “The legislature can actually do anything they want until they’re challenged,” explained Ricketts with a wry laugh. If the budget hadn’t been vetoed, and this provision was allowed to stand, he said it could have rendered Proposition 98 meaningless “for purposes of establishing a base for funding for education because the legislature year-to-year could fund it any level it wanted to just with a simple majority vote.”

Gov. no girly-man

The veto also gave Gov. Brown a little more street cred with educators. Talk around the hall lockers is that he exhibited more muscle yesterday in taking on his party and the Republicans than his predecessor Gov. Mr. Universe ever showed.

“I think it was a very strong leadership move for the governor,” said Mike Hanson, superintendent of Fresno Unified School District.  ”He’s laying out the rules of the game; it’s got to be a budget that will work.”

Like many superintendents, Hanson has had to make years of painful cuts and is hopeful that the governor’s firm stand will force a reengagement that brings both political parties back to the table to develop a “permanent and attainable” solution. Fresno Unified will have 522 fewer teachers next year, and several hundred fewer classified staff, and the district is actually in better shape than most because it has a 7 percent reserve – which they’ll soon be drawing down.

“If the governor were to fold and to sign the budget, his political future in the state would just be in the toilet,” said Bob Blattner of Blattner & Associates, an education consulting firm based in Sacramento. “It would be another four years of Schwarzenegger with a smaller collar size.”

Blattner said his clients were terrified that the budget approved on Tuesday would have led to mid-year budget cuts because so many of the savings and revenues were based on shaky assumptions. He said the governor’s action gave them hope for a structural change that would give them a sustainable and predictable budget solution. He said that by standing up against the status quo of legislative inaction, Brown showed that there’s an adult at the wheel who knows where the state should be going.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for a great story, Kathy.  I am so glad you “get it” and know how to pursue and write a story that really speaks to the issues faced by the education community.
    Of course, the Legislature can do whatever it wants, and they still might not get paid for Wednesday’s debacle.  The lack of experience and the party polarization of the members allows the “business as usual” perspective to persist.  Perhaps the “Gang of Five” will be able to pull it together under Brown.

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