CTA’s a team player for Jerry Brown

The president of the California Teachers Association said Monday that in backing Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, the state’s largest teachers union is agreeing to “stay at awful” for now with the expectation that more money will flow again to schools in coming years. But if voters defeat the $6.9 billion tax measure in November, the CTA will fight Brown – and go to court if necessary – to prevent the governor from exacting disproportionate cuts to K-12 schools.

The 800-member CTA State Council on Sunday endorsed Brown’s plan to use higher taxes to increase the state’s General Fund over a rival plan from the California Federation of Teachers that would split among K-12 schools, higher education, and social services an estimated $6 billion to $9 billion from taxing millionaires. CTA president Dean Vogel estimated the governor’s plan got 70 percent of delegates’ support on a voice vote.

“The governor’s initiative is the only initiative that provides additional revenues for our classrooms and closes the state budget deficit, and guarantees local communities will receive funds to pay for the realignment of local health and public safety services that the Legislature approved last year,” Vogel said in a statement.

That’s only partially true. The governor is  proposing no additional money for the classroom, including not funding a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment to which the schools would be entitled. Instead, Brown would use $5 billion in additional revenue to pay off deferrals, a form of short-term debt in which the state budgets money for schools one year but delays payment to districts until the next year.

The CFT proposal and a rival initiative by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, which CTA delegates did not seriously consider, would provide immediate increases in school spending. But Vogel said they wouldn’t  address the estimated $9 billion deficit facing the General Fund. The union’s taking the view that the financial crisis facing the state “is not just about schools but about communities” – and the need to protect preschool and the state’s university systems as well as heath and social services.

Brown’s tax would at least stabilize funding for schools, setting up the prospect for eventually repaying money to schools while building up the base for Proposition 98, Vogel said.

Brown’s plan would temporarily raise the sales tax by a half-cent and the income tax on upper-income Californians (those earning more than $250,000). If it fails, the governor would manipulate Prop 98 to impose an extra $2.4 billion cut in school spending. He would shift the burden of repaying school construction bonds from the General Fund to Proposition 98, keeping funding level while adding a multibillion-dollar expense.

Threatening schools with a $5 billion cut helps Brown sell the need for passing his tax increase, but Vogel said that the CTA would fight further tampering with Prop 98, in court if necessary.

Vogel told CTA delegates that the Service Employees International Union, the other big teachers union, will back Brown’s initiative, too, although the SEIU has yet to announce its decision. If true, that leaves the CFT the only school union holdout, with enough money to bring its initiative to the ballot but not enough to sustain a campaign. Munger, whose proposal to raise the income tax would raise $10 billion for K-12 schools and preschools,  has shown no sign of backing off putting  her competing plan on the ballot.

Vogel told Kevin Yamamura of the Sacramento Bee that the CTA would pony up an undetermined amount of money for the governor’s initiative, although the union is also facing a potentially expensive battle to defeat an initiative that would restrict the collection of union members’ dues for political campaigns. The CTA does not plan to ask members for a surcharge on dues, as it did to fight similar unfriendly initiatives  in 2005, Vogel said.