CSBA: Vote for both tax plans

The state PTA backs the tax initiative financed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger; the California Teachers Association and the Association of California School Administrators endorsed the governor’s initiative. This week, the California School Boards Association decided to support both.

On Sunday, at the urging of CSBA’s board of directors, school board members in the Delegate Assembly voted 129-79 to encourage their constituents to vote for both tax proposals that will appear on the November ballot. They did so after an hour-and-a-half debate and after defeating, by voice vote, an amendment calling for CSBA to support only Munger’s “Our Children, Our Future” initiative. There was no motion to support only “The Schools and Local Public Protection Act of 2012,” which Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Federation of Teachers are sponsoring.

“We are facing a nuclear winter for funding for public education,” said CSBA Vice President Josephine Lucey, a school board member from Cupertino. “Districts cannot absorb more cuts and provide a decent education.” Delegates decided it was smartest to back both initiatives, Lucey said, after concluding, “Why should we be fodder for a fight” between the two tax campaigns or the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which would play up its opposition to one of the tax plans.

Brown’s tax plan was favored by a slight majority, 54 percent, in a poll last month by the Public Policy Institute of California, while Munger’s drew only 40 percent support in that voter survey. But Munger’s plan would provide substantially more money for K-12 schools, so it came down to a difference between “the purists and the pragmatists,” said Frank Biehl, president of the East Side Union High School District school board and a delegate from Santa Clara County. “One side said Munger’s would bring more money for a longer time with more flexibility. The other side said, ‘It’s not going to pass so what difference doe it make?'”

Biehl, who plans to vote for both, said another factor was that the CSBA didn’t want to cut off dialogue with Brown, who has met with the board of directors and responded to their concerns, such as changing his plan for a weighted student formula.

Both initiatives are expected to qualify for the ballot. Brown’s tax plan would raise between $6.5 billion and $9 billion by raising the sales tax ¼ percent for four years and the personal income tax between 1 and 3 percent for seven years on those earning more than $250,000. But most of the money would go toward shoring up the General Fund, with $2.9 billion going toward Proposition 98 next year; Brown would commit that to repay part of  $9 billion in deferrals, late payments to school districts.

Munger’s initiative would raise $5 billion in 2012-13 and then $10 billion for 11 years by raising the state’s progressive personal income tax less than a half-percent for lowest earners up to 2.2 percent for those earning more than $2.5 million. In the first three years, her plan would pay off $3 billion in state bonds, freeing up money for the General Fund, with the rest going toward K-12 schools and early childhood education. After that, all of the money would go directly to schools, on a per-student basis, and early childhood programs.

If, against the odds, Munger’s initiative won and the governor’s lost, the Legislature could undermine it by separately manipulating the General Fund to decrease Proposition 98 funding for education. Brown and lawmakers have become adept at that. There would be disputes if both initiatives passed. The one with the highest vote total would determine which clauses applied in areas of overlap (the rates on the personal income tax); the courts would likely be called on to sort through other issues.

In its press release on Sunday’s vote, CSBA made a strenuous case for more school funding while expressing little enthusiasm for Brown’s initiative. Quoting CSBA Executive Director Vernon Billy, it said, “CSBA opted for the dual endorsement because schools desperately need funding.” Yet, he and the CSBA leadership want to make it clear to the public that the governor’s initiative does not provide new funding for schools. Instead, it bolsters the General Fund with new revenue.

“‘Under the governor’s plan, schools would get back some of the billions of dollars that were redirected away from them and used to shore up the state’s funding gap in the last budgetary cycle. The governor’s initiative only restores some of the funds already owed to schools,’” Billy said.