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.”
Gov. Jerry Brown, sadly, fails to move away from that “special interest focus” in introducing Proposition 30, a $50 billion tax on all Californians aimed at funding education and public safety — 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 went 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 made it to our classrooms, are we to believe that Prop. 30, officially titled “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding” (emphasis added), will not similarly be directed elsewhere? Prop. 30 guarantees it will pay for prisons. Tellingly, it makes no such guarantees for education.
Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee makes this point in a video analysis of a pro–Prop. 30 commercial he says is misleading: “[I]t said … money would go to schools, it would be in a lockbox that the politicians couldn’t touch. Which isn’t true.”
The Los Angeles Times acknowledges, “The result [of Prop. 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.”
But the California State PTA doesn’t appear to believe that Sacramento will spend these new “education” tax dollars in the classroom. 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 [Prop. 38] would raise for schools would … [bypass] the Legislature and state education officials.”
But Prop. 38 itself is flawed; an even more draconian tax hike than Prop. 30, it would increase taxes on income more than $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.”
What’s missing from the education recipe in Sacramento isn’t more funding, but bold leadership. Without raising taxes, Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey this year increased school funding by $250 million, an increase for every district in the state. That 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 bail out plan, California voters will send the long overdue message that we reject the special interest-dominated status quo of Sacramento.
Arie Lipnick is the Los Angeles–based California regional director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, www.rjchq.org.