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Dueling Propositions, 30 And 38, Present Schools A Funding Choice

October 8, 2012 1:18 p.m.


Kyla Calvert, KBPS Education reporter

Thad Kousser, political science professor, UC San Diego

Related Story: Dueling Propositions, 30 And 38, Present Schools A Funding Choice


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Make sure you check out the KPBS voter guide it breaks down the big races and measures with clear language with links to stories and candidate bios. You can go through to user ballot and make decisions and take it to the polls with you on your smartphone. That is the voter guide. Coming up we will talk about the two propositions on the ballot that ask Californians to approve taxes for education funding. It is 12:21 and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. This election San Diego voters will be joining the rest of California in deciding if they are ready to pay more to fund the schools. Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing his tax initiative proposition 30 which supporters will say will stop cuts to schools this year and provide money for schools and public safety in the future. But that is not the only school funding measure on the ballot. Supporters of prop 38 say their tax measure is the only one that will increase California school funding. KPBS education reporter Kyla Calvert prepared this feature on what each proposition will do.

KYLA CALVERT: (inaudible) Shaw and (inaudible) Clifford each have children in the San Diego unified language Academy in the College area. Clifford says that budget cuts have put the school in a bind.

MS. CLIFFORD: We've cut any kind of fat we are cutting muscle we cut limbs we cannot cut anymore it's too devastating it's destabilizing.

KYLA CALVERT: Shaw agrees her sons fifth-grade class has 41 students but that's not the only problem.

MS. SHAW: My son's elementary school has no music unless it is paid for by fundraising. My son's elementary school has no art unless it is paid for by parent fundraising.

KYLA CALVERT: What Clifford and Shaw don't agree on is how to vote on propositions 30 and 38 on November's ballot. Gov. Jerry Brown is behind proposition 30. That measure would raise the sales tax by a quarter percent by the next four years and increase income taxes on Californians earning more than $250,000 a year by between one and 3%. Clifford, who is also a teacher the language Academy says supporting Brown's measure is the fairest way to go because it will not cut far into middle income pocketbooks.

MS. CLIFFORD: Parents, teachers have already been paying extra because they see what's needed and they try to meet those needs. And yet we are going to be willing to pay the extra sales tax. It's going to bring in $6 billion annually. That income that is coming in will start right away.

KYLA CALVERT: In addition to being a parent Shaw is the regional PT a spokeswoman and California PTAs have gotten behind proposition 38 which is backed by wealthy activist Molly Munger. Them would raise income taxes on all but the poorest Californians on between .4 and 2.2% for the next 12 years. Those taxes are expected to raise about $10 million a year. But, Shaw says that's just the start of the differences between the two propositions.

MS. SHAW: The one that means the most to me is the setting up a set of independent independent trust fund that will collect prop 38 revenue and disperse it directly to schools on a per child basis.

KYLA CALVERT: Some of the money would also go toward paying down state debt and early childhood education programs. The separate account is key for Shaw because she says state lawmakers have a history of finding ways around California's minimum school funding guarantee.

MS. SHAW: Voters in California are sick of the funds getting ripped off by funds getting diverted out of the general fund for something else.

KYLA CALVERT: Funds from prop 30 would go into a new account that's part of the state's general fund. In future years the money would free up other state funds for other programs, not necessarily increase funding for schools, but Clifford says that's part of why she supports the measure.

MS. CLIFFORD: We cannot think our schools need more money, our schools need stable communities and prop 30 provides the extra support for public safety and Health and Human Services. Our kids are not going to learn if they don't have basic needs met.

KYLA CALVERT: If prop 30 fails the state budget is set to cut $5.3 million from the state's public schools and committee colleges. Half 1 billion from universities and 100 million total from other State Department and local public safety grants. Many education supporters and click San Diego you to stay unified's education is asking voters to vote yes on both measures. If both passive pass in November this initiative with the most yes votes would be the one to go into effect reports Pres. John Evans says every voter who supports both the sending a clear message to legislators.

JOHN EVANS: I think there'll be an outcry on the public's part for funding for public education. We ranked 47th in the nation in terms of per-pupil funding and this is not acceptable.

KYLA CALVERT: Chris Cate with the San Diego taxpayers Association says by rejecting both measures voting voters would be sending another equally important message.

CHRIS CATE: We already have the second highest tax income rate in the country we have the highest sales tax rate in the country.

KYLA CALVERT: He says if funding education is a priority we should be focused on it in the budget.

CHRIS CATE: If education is a priority they should be focusing on that rather than wasting my time energy and money on things like high-speed rail or other pet projects they want to get done.

KYLA CALVERT: Educators, students, parents and taxpayers across San Diego County and the state are holding their breath waiting to hear which message voters choose. Kyla Calvert, KPBS news.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I am joined in studio by KPBS education reporter Kyla Calvert, Kyla, high.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And on the phone, Thad Kousser political science professor at UC San Diego. Hi, Thad, thank you for doing this.

THAD KOUSSER: Thanks for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kyla tell us more about the level of budget cuts San Diego schools have taken in the past few years

KYLA CALVERT: I was just double checking on their website this morning and according to the district they had about $500 million cut from the budget Since 2007. They have an annual operating budget now just about $1 billion so they said that it's just about a quarter of their total state funding has been cut since 2007.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And are these two ballot measures that we are talking about 30 and 38 aimed at K-12 or what they benefit higher education as well?

KYLA CALVERT: K-12 is sort of where they overlap so prop 30 does have, this year specifically there are trigger cuts attached to proposition 30 for CSU, the committee colleges and the UC schools. So, they would see the funding reduction if proposition 30 doesn't pass and in that way property does specifically have money for higher education and proposition 30 it doesn't specifically direct any funds to higher education but it's supporters contend because it's a portion of the money raised by proposition 38 would go toward paying off state debts to schools. They sort of have delayed funding that they are committed to sending to schools. So proposition 38 includes money to pay down those debts, and so it's supporters say that by paying down the debt that would free up other state funds that could be spent on things like higher education.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thad, proposition 30 the one that is supported by the governor is largely pointed to as an education issue but it does more than raise money for schools, right?

THAD KOUSSER: Both of the measures take money and the actual tax dollars that they raise go into a fund that is dedicated to schools. And so they are both technically correct saying all the money goes to schools but what both of the measures do is they free up money that the legislature can use on public safety higher education Health and Human Services all the other areas which have actually taken bigger hits in the budget in the last few years than schools so the debt repayment provided by prop 38 and the money and prop 30 that would go into help solving sort of reducing the cuts that need to be made in other areas both of them would spread money around to the other areas of state government that many folks say is desperately needed.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now both measures include the income tax increase. Proposition 30 is aimed at the highest earners plus a sales tax data, who would pay prop 38 tax increase?

THAD KOUSSER: It is paid by everyone with people paying the bigger share if they make the most money. About if you want to put this in occupied terms prop 38 because the income taxes so broadly based, raises almost half its money from the top 1% and the rest of the money from everyone else. Perhaps 30, the governor's initiative because so much of its money comes from high taxes on people making over $1 million between 500,000 and 1 million that is 80% of the money would come from the top 1%.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So and yet there is a sales tax included in prop 30 is that right?

THAD KOUSSER: There is the sense that the poor of Californians do a little bit more work under prop 30s initiative because we pay a quarter cent sales tax on people making incomes of $500,000 or more for a family pay a higher income tax under the governor's measure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thad let me direct this to Kyla even though Thad made the point that both of these measures may free up money from the general fund to go to other things like public safety and so forth, prop 38 specifically says that the money that it raises will go into a specific place. What is that place?

KYLA CALVERT: Well actually both measures say, or both measures create these accounts that are strictly for education. Proposition 38, that account is outside of the general fund, so the money in that account would be district it directly to schools on a per student funding level basis much like the regular state money for schools actually the regular state money is distributed to district and they distribute to schools is more of a direct line to schools where is a proposition 30 account is more like a subaccount that is part of the general fund. So, the money does go just to meeting the state's minimum funding guarantee for schools, but it is a little bit more sort of gray as to, if you pour water into a bucket, if you say this water can only fill the bottom of the bucket the bucket is only as full as much as, only as full as the water you pour into it from any source.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I understand your point. Let me ask you though, Thad, so, is the difference in a sense like the lockbox that we used to hear about like in national politics when it came to Social Security, it, prop 38 put these funds into a box that cannot be touched by any other need of the general fund?

THAD KOUSSER: Well, it does that, but 30% of the money goes to repaying the state debt, so it puts it in an education lockbox, but a lot of the money doesn't go directly to education. So I think the way to think about these, yes it's very confusing

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I mean could they make it any more confusing?

KYLA CALVERT: I don't think so.

THAD KOUSSER: But you know it's like a lot of us hopefully have a checking account, savings account. You put a lot of money in one, it relaxes the pressure of the other ones. I think the big difference in the two initiatives is their size, right? So I think props 38 must intellectually honest argument for why prop 38 Molly Munger says it's better for schools and prop 30 the governor's initiative simply because it brings in more money for more years. It brings and $10 million a year instead of $6 billion a year and it brings that in for longer time period. So if you've got money going into the state government and state government spends more money on schools than anything else, that's the number one priority of Democrats and Republicans up there in Sacramento they are going to do better by anything that brings more money into state government and of course we are all going to have to pay more in taxes to fit the bill.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kyla, we keep hearing supporters of prop 30 talking about dire consequences if it is passed tell us about that.

KYLA CALVERT: They're talking about trigger cuts and most of the cuts, 5.3 billion of 6 billion would fall on schools and community colleges. So I think in San Diego unified that equates to about a $40 million cut from the operating budget. And in San Diego unified they would accommodate the cut by cutting three more weeks from the school year, so they've already reduce the school year by five days to meet with sort of funding shortages and it would be cut by another 14, so almost basically one month of school time.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that are there any dire consequences if prop 38 fails?

THAD KOUSSER: I think if both of these initiatives fail said yes we will see the dire consequences of schools which were spared in a budget where the legislature and the governor otherwise caught a lot of areas to state government but they spared schools of both of the tax increases feel which is not going to have the money and we will see the major cuts that nobody wants to see coming to schools. If both of them passed, whichever one gets the most votes, the legislature is going to have the ability to take the money, each in each of his going to bring a huge amount of money in, prop 30 automatically the trigger cuts will be erased but if prop 38 wins that gets the most votes the legislature will almost certainly use the money, the new money coming into stop the trigger cuts, potentially they will have to be some borrowing and some gimmicks but they will use the new revenues to stop the cuts to school whichever initiative of these two

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was my next question. If prop 38 passes, the trigger cuts that would go into effect if prop 30 doesn't pass, somehow the legislature would cobble together the money and the loans and so forth to make sure that the trigger cuts didn't go into effect because they knew they were going to have education money coming from prop 38

THAD KOUSSER: Yeah like if voter votes themselves a $10 billion tax bill a year and legislators didn't actually spend it and get the money out to save schools you would see a lot of new legislators next year around so it will take legislative action but I've talked and checked in with some of the people who have run budgets in California in the last few years and enough money will come in with prop 38 soon enough that with some creative borrowing, the trigger cuts, the cuts to schools that two weeks less of school that we may face in the spring, those will likely be filled in, whichever initiative passes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's talk about which organizations and individuals are supporting these propositions. Besides, Thad, Gov. Brown who else is backing prop 30

THAD KOUSSER: Well, the major labor groups the California teachers Association has backed prop 30 as well as the labor groups who represent other parts of government that don't want to see those areas cut. Whereas prop 38 primarily you got the PTA at the statewide level has backed that strongly

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how are the two propositions polling?

THAD KOUSSER: Prop 30 has always been polling just barely winning and prop 38, you know before the ad campaign was always polling and below 50%. That never bodes well for an initiative but you seen a huge amount of spending on, from Molly Munger, the education activist on behalf of prop 38 so it has the potential to rise up and prop 30 could fall down below 50%.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have seen the TV ads for prop 38. So that's probably going to kick in really heavily in rotation as we get closer to election day

THAD KOUSSER: And ironically Molly Munger's brother Charles more of a conservative activist just pledged $10 million to fight prop 30 so we are going to see negative ads giving the con side of both initiatives.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Kyla tell us again what you heard from people who oppose both of these tax measures the argument perhaps is that there is still set left to cut somewhere?

KYLA CALVERT: Not necessarily. I had spoken to somebody from the San Diego County taxpayers Association and he was saying yes certainly we should fund schools at an adequate level. I mean, we heard the Board of Education Pres. John Lee Evans mentioned the California is 47 in terms of per-pupil funding. But, at the same time we also heard Chris Kate at the San Diego County taxpayers Association say that we are, going to switch it up accidentally here but it's first in income tax and second in sales tax but maybe it's the other way around. But we are already highly taxed, and if we are taxing our residence at this rate, why can't we get the money to schools? Is more what the taxpayers Association was saying. But, you know if that is the priority that's where the money should go, not to things like high-speed rail as we heard him say.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Most notably Chris Cate did not mention property taxes, Thad. That is when we are fairly low at you know California's tax burden is about 10% of the income, national average 10.5 of income we are a high tax rate, but not number one in the country.

THAD KOUSSER: And some would point to the fact that we are lower in property taxes as the reason behind all these problems with the education budget.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We won't go there, then what is the likelihood that voters approve a new tax when the economy is so dicey?

THAD KOUSSER: I think this is probably the best shot we've seen for the tax increase that Gov. Brown has basically been campaigning for since he got there. I think the stakes are clear the schools are going to take a big hit or we are going to make this cut. The state has trimmed a lot of fat and I think the governor has its best shot but it's very tough for voters to vote themselves a tax increase that all of us will be paying the quarter cent sales tax and it will last for four years and I would say it's a coin flip right now.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And my last question to you, Kyla it seems like there's a battle between proposition 30 supporters and prop 38 supporters and yet San Diego unified officials are basically asking voters to vote for both, why is that?

KYLA CALVERT: Because only one can go into effect and so the San Diego Board of Trustees have basically said our schools need more money, we are not really going to tie ourselves to it coming from one place or the other, we just believe the schools need more funding.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So if everybody votes for both the idea is that at least one of them is going to win.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right I have been speaking with KPBS education reporter Kyla Calvert and UC San Diego Political Science professor Thad Kousser. Thank you both very much.

BOTH: Thanks for having us.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Once again for more information about the ballot measures check out the voters guide.