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Prop. 88 Seeks to Fund Education Programs through $50 Property Tax

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Aired 4/19/09

San Diego County voters will face a number of school funding choices on Election Day. So far Proposition 1D, the $10 billion state school bond measure, has captured most of the attention. But voters will also be asked to decide Prop. 88. If approved, the initiative would set a financial precedent in California. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis takes a closer look.  

Prop. 88 supporters say the measure will help schools like Edison Elementary in City Heights. Edison recently added three new buildings and two play-areas to accommodate the growing number of students. Teachers are grateful for the extra space, but say enrollment is still too high. They say too many students per class hurts the learning experience. Paul Mitchell is director of EdVoice, an advocacy group backing Prop. 88.

Mitchell: What Proposition 88 does is instead of just funding the actual facilities, it funds what actually goes into the classrooms.

The measure would help pay for class-size reduction programs, instructional materials, and school safety measures in schools across the state. Here’s how it would work: California property owners would be taxed $50 for each piece of property they own. The measure would be written into the California Constitution, making it a permanent tax. Mitchell says that ensures the money would be protected. 

Mitchell: This money is sequestered away from all that politics. And this money will be spent specifically on these matters. That’s why it's in the Constitution. And it cannot be amended by the Legislature. They cannot decide in five years that, hey wait, now we want to spend this money on a different project.

The tax would generate an estimated $450 million. The money would go directly to local schools and school districts.

But Prop. 88 opponents say it would set a dangerous precedent in California. Critics say the measure exploits a loophole in Prop. 13. The 30-year-old measure requires a two-thirds vote to approve any local property tax. Prop. 88 requires only a simple majority. San Diego County Taxpayers Association president Lani Lutar says Prop. 88 would encourage special interests to pass more and even bigger state property taxes to fund specific cases.

Lutar: That’s what so troubling about the measure. Another provision which is of concern in this measure --if these programs are found to be ineffective, there’s no sunset period and the tax will continue.

The California PTA and the California School Boards Association are opposing Prop. 88. But not because they object to the Prop. 13 loophole. These education groups say $450 million is not enough to pay for class-size reduction programs, textbooks and new school safety measures at all schools. That’s something the Legislative Analyst Jennifer Kuhn points out. She says it would take at least $470 million to support the programs, and that cost would most likely go up each year.

Kuhn: The proposition is silent on to how it would be adjusted over time. So without subsequent action it would remain a $50 flat rate.

Kuhn says the programs would have to be scaled back because there will not be enough money to cover the costs. Prop. 88 would be the first statewide property tax since 1910 if voters approve the measure.

While some California educators are lukewarm on Prop. 88, one measure they are all rallying behind is Prop. 1-D – the $10 billion state school bond measure. If approved, the money would help school districts repair, modernize and build new facilities over the next two years. The measure is part of a larger infrastructure package to rebuild California. Although critics object to putting California further in debt. Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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