Call for one tax on November ballotGroups reassert demand for reforms
Later this week, Gov. Jerry Brown will get a letter from education and business leaders worried about the prospect of multiple tax initiatives in November. Their message: The only hope for addition to revenue is subtraction on the ballot.
But in calling for Brown to persuade sponsors of various proposed initiatives to coalesce around one initiative, the letter will ask Brown to bend as well. The signers favor combining higher taxes with “real structural reform” – an idea missing from Brown’s proposal for a temporary $7 billion per year sales and income tax increase.
“If there are multiple revenue-raising measures on the ballot, none are likely to pass. We can’t let that happen to our kids,” wrote Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, an advocacy group for early childhood education, in a note to a letter that he is circulating to like-minded leaders. Lempert is asking them to sign the letter by Thursday.
Besides Brown’s initiative, which a number of public employee unions back, there could be three to a half-dozen competing tax plans on the November ballot, several of which could be backed by well-funded campaigns. These include big taxes on millionaires and on oil production in California.
There’s general consensus that more than one tax initiative, splitting the votes of already tenuous tax supporters, would doom all to fail. As yet, at least publicly, there’s been no sign of compromise. But with time running short to start collecting signatures, negotiations for a deal would have to happen in the next few weeks.
Lempert is calling on Brown to lead the talks.
Lempert is a leader behind The 2012 Kids Education Plan. It calls for a $6 billion to $8 billion unspecified tax exclusively for early childhood education and K-12 schools. It also outlines broad elements of reform that it says should be part of any tax increase. They include lowering the super-majority requirement for passing local school taxes, simplifying the convoluted school funding system, and adopting “workforce reforms” (code for perhaps changing state teacher tenure and evaluation laws). The two-dozen organizations that have signed on to the Plan include two members of the Education Coalition – the Association of California School Administrators and the California School Boards Association; the Bay Area Council, representing Bay Area businesses, and United Way of Greater Los Angeles; the parents groups Educacy and Educate Our State; and advocacy groups Public Advocates and Education Trust-West (see related post by Ed Trust-West Executive Director Arun Ramanathan). Some of those groups are expected to sign the letter to Brown as well.
Brown is going to have to strike a delicate balance.
If he agrees to all of the key elements of The 2012 Kids Education Plan, the California Teachers Association may withdraw its support and money. But Lempert and others will counter that combining reform and revenue is the only way to get business executives and philanthropists to pony up for what promises to be an expensive campaign. A proposition backed only by labor won’t win, they’ll argue.
Brown’s tax plan would increase the General Fund, which faces a $13 billion deficit next year; only a piece of it would go to K-12 schools and community colleges (roughly 40 percent). Education advocates argue that a tax increase dedicated to schools has the best, if not the only, chance of passing, and have several recent polls to back that up.
The Our Children, Our Future initiative, sponsored by civil rights attorney Molly Munger and backed by the California PTA, would raise $10 billion exclusively for K-12 and early childhood programs by raising the state income tax, hitting high-income earners the hardest.
But late last month, Munger indicated she’s sensitive to Brown’s dilemma and the state’s overall fiscal crisis. She submitted an alternate version of her initiative that would divert $3 billion of the $10 billion in new revenue for four years to pay down the state’s bond indebtedness. The effect would be to free up $3 billion in the General Fund to address the state budget deficit, without raising the obligation to schools through Proposition 98.
That’s the type of movement that all sides must show to head off defeat by circular firing squad in November.