Gov. Jerry Brown raised a political ruckus this week with the airing of five television commercials urging voters to support Proposition 30. The ads give the clear impression that the money raised from the measure must be spent in classrooms and can't be siphoned away by legislators for other purposes.
This is largely true because Proposition 98's minimum-funding levels require that a certain percentage of state revenue go to education. But in fact there is no lock box. Proposition 30 would free up money that could be spent by legislators for other purposes. But given this newspaper's historic opposition to ballot-box budgeting and silo-funding measures — as well as silo-thinking in Sacramento — we hardly consider this a flaw.
What we see as flawed is the partisan caterwauling that has left California's schoolchildren at the center of a political "War or the Roses." And the situation is about to get worse. The governor can't say for certain what will happen with each dollar if Proposition 30 passes. But here's what every resident can be certain will happen if it fails:
<BL@199,12,11,10>Schools from kindergarten to high school will suffer funding cuts of $5 billion. That is equivalent to losing 15 more instructional days. The school year in California is already at the bare minimum with just 175 school days, less in some districts. This would leave California with the shortest school year in the nation and well behind those of many countries.
This funding reduction would be on top of $20 billion in cuts that schools have already experienced over the past four years, resulting in growing class sizes, elimination of music and art programs and decimation of sports programs, library and counseling services and some core curriculum offerings.
<BL@199,12,11,10>Community colleges such as Santa Rosa Junior College would lose $300 million. This is on top of a 12 percent cut in state funding since 2008.
<BL@199,12,11,10>The UC system would lose an additional $250 million a year, forcing the system to move ahead with its plans for a major tuition hike.
<BL@199,12,11,10>Sonoma State and the 22 other state universities would lose a combined $250 million as well. The CSU system has already approved a 9 percent tuition increase next year, bringing total annual tuition to nearly $6,000.
Proposition 30 would avoid this by increasing the state sales tax by a quarter cent to 7.5 percent for four years. It also would increase, for seven years, income taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. Between the two, the state would gain roughly $6 billion a year to help it through this crisis.
Other provisions of Proposition 30 would ensure that local governments continue to receive adequate funding to pay for programs transferred from state control, most notably growing use of county jails to house convicted felons. The initiative also would ensure that open-meeting rules aren't ever waived again as a cost-saving measure.
Another option is Proposition 38, the Molly Munger tax initiative, which would increase personal income tax rates, with the biggest hit on those making more than $2.5 million a year. Two-thirds of that money would go to K-12 schools, and 30 percent would pay down state debt.
Those looking for an education-saving measure may find the Munger initiative superior in that it more fairly distributes the financial burden through the state's progressive income tax and comes with greater protections against legislative pilfering. But Proposition 38 does not prevent the trigger cuts that are due to come if Proposition 30 fails, specifies no funding for UC and CSU systems and prohibits the money from being spent on salaries, which could make it difficult to get the funds where they are needed most.