Few support, understand propositions 1A, 1B

Although the passage of the propositions could save the jobs of thousands of teachers, the funding mechanism to make it happen may be too costly and might not be enough

By David Michael Courtland 05/07/2009

Polls show the verdict is probably already in for the  May 19 special election ballot, said Prof. Herb Gooch, a California Lutheran University political science instructor who has lectured on the arcane series of propositions.

“They’re showing consistently everything except [Prop.] F is in serious trouble,” with only 30 percent to 40 percent support, Gooch said. “Two weeks out from an election, the kiss of death — they’re so far out, it would be surprising if they pass.”

Propositions 1A and 1B, probably the two most confusing and controversial items on the May 19 ballot, are designed to raise $6 billion to $7 billion toward a balanced 2009 state budget.

“Prop. A is the one that has got the most controversy and is the most complicated,” said Gooch. He explained that A raises money to fund B. “A and B are tied together — B won’t fill up with money unless A passes.”

Prop. 1A is intended to give a new lease on life to taxes scheduled to expire, but the proposition is being presented as if it creates a new rainy day fund for legislators to tap in emergencies. However, that fund already exists, and Prop. 1A would merely raise the amount set aside from 5 percent to 12.5 percent of the general fund.

“Prop. A would add two years’ additional taxes, to the tune of $16 billion,” explained Gooch.

That additional money, in turn, would fund Prop. 1B and $9.3 billion of the rainy day fund that would go to the state’s education budget and — at least in theory — prevent thousands of teachers from getting pink-slipped.

Adding to the confusion, the Service Employees International Union and a number of other major unions oppose the measure, with only the California Teachers Union, for whom the proposition was written, supporting it.

“It doesn’t have a clear-cut set of supporters, and even among supporters, there’s differing views,” Gooch said.

According to Gooch, some business owners said they don’t like it, but they’re willing to vote for it because they might get something worse.

But Kris Vosburgh of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association says things couldn’t get worse for California’s business community than Prop. 1B, which calls for a $16 billion tax increase. This means that the recent tax increases made to balance California’s budget — the sales and use tax increase from 8 percent to 9 percent; the vehicle license fee increase from 0.65 percent to 1.15 percent of a vehicle’s value; and the personal income tax hike, depending on the person’s income, from 1 percent to 10.3 percent — would be extended another one to two additional years. All of the recent tax hikes would expire in 2011, whereas Prop. 1A would extend the life of the new taxes until 2013.

“We think it’s unreasonable and unfair; we’re already the highest taxed state,” said Vosburgh. “We’re driving families and businesses out of the state. People don’t come here anymore. Businesses don’t want to expand here.”

Even supporters like Oxnard School District Trustee Denis O’Leary are less than enthusiastic about Prop. 1B.

O’Leary says 1A and 1B do not resolve the problem at the heart of the budget crisis and fall short of raising enough money for a balanced budget anyway.

“We’ve got a $42 billion shortfall; after increasing taxes and cutting programs, they got it down to $6 billion,” O’Leary said, summarizing the budget debate between Democrats and Republicans earlier this year. “We’re probably already another $8 billion down, so the logic behind (the propositions) is already false.”

O’Leary says that what needs to be done is for the state legislature to scrap its constitutional requirement to have budgets approved with a two-thirds majority.

“The two-thirds are held up by the one-third,” said O’Leary. “The budget lives and dies on that. It wouldn’t be so bad except the two sides are recalcitrant.”

Oxnard School District Assistant Superintendent Glenston Thompson called the propositions a step in the right direction, “unless there are loopholes in the law. Who knows what they’ll do in the next round of funding?”

Like O’Leary, Thompson says the propositions don’t really attack the problem that leaves California schools underfunded in the first place — the lack of a permanent funding mechanism for schools.

“If Prop. 1A passes, 1B will give us the money that will allow us to address some of the pending layoffs,” said Thompson, adding that even with the $9.3 billion from 1B, the district is still left counting on the federal stimulus package to save jobs.

“It’s very important the state does not put its fingers in those monies, but this is something the state has not made clear,” said Thompson, adding that the district is projecting another $5 million in cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

“Given what we know now, our fears are that Props. 1A, 1B and 1C will not pass, and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Thompson. “The State of California should not dip its fingers in our pot of gold.”   

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