Coalitions in 4 States Battling Measures On Taxes, Lotteries as Election Nears
With Election Day just one week away, education and political leaders in four states are fighting to defeat property-tax-limitation ballot proposals that they contend will cripple education.
Of 229 statewide ballot propositions in 42 states and the District of Columbia this year, an estimated 22 propositions in 15 states relate to education, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the staff of Initiative and Referendum Report, a monthly publication of the Institute for Government and Politics. The institute is a divi-sion of the Free Congress Foundation, a public-policy-research organization based in Washington, D.C.
In California, Michigan, Oregon, and Nevada, voters will weigh in on property-tax-limitation measures that would limit tax levels and prevent state legislatures from raising taxes without either a public referendum or a majority legislative vote. While such initiatives are not directly related to education, they have significant implications for education funding, according to school-finance experts and observers of ballot initiatives.
"If the [tax-limitation] measures in California, Nevada, and Michigan pass, legislators would be forced inevitably, if not immediately, to make tough choices and priorities," said Patrick B. McGuigan, editor of Initiative and Referendum Report.
"Unfortunately, traditionally, that has sometimes meant a reduction in education funding," he added. "Legislators often turn to education before they turn to the bureaucracy itself when they start making reductions."
But Mr. McGuigan did note that, in light of the education-reform movement of the last year and a half, legislators will hesitate to cut education funds. "This time, it's very possible that, given the political dynamic, legislators will do some other things first," Mr. McGuigan speculated. "They may eventually get to education, but because they may put it a little further down on the list for reductions, education might fare a little better in this round."
Allan Odden, associate professor in the University of Southern California's School of Education and former director of the Education Finance Center of the Education Commission of the States, said that although tax-limitation measures would cause revenue losses, public support for such measures does not indicate anti-education sentiment.
In Michigan, he said, people may feel the need to close budget holes caused by the recent severe recession. In Oregon, taxpayers are rebelling against unusually high property taxes. And in states where there are budget surpluses, he said, voters will be more likely to support tax rollbacks.
In California, voters will face Proposition 36, a property-tax-limitation measure, on the Nov. 6 ballot. The proposition, which is also called the Jarvis IV initiative after its sponsor, a state legislator named Howard Jarvis, seeks to reinforce and extend the intent of Proposition 13. That measure, a controversial tax rollback approved by voters in 1978 that inspired 18 states to enact similar measures, was also written by Mr. Jarvis.
Proposition 36 would limit the sum of all taxes on real property to 1 percent of full cash value; clarify annual inflation adjustments to property value; and require a two-thirds vote of the legislature or local government to increase taxes, and two-thirds approval by voters to pass any bond issue.
Proponents of the measure have labeled it a taxpayer's bill of rights.
Kay Albiani, president of the California School Boards Association, said the measure is so vague that it raises the possibility of having to secure a two-thirds vote of the people to increase school-lunch prices or school-library fines.
The state's legislative analyst estimates that school districts could lose property-tax revenues of up to $750 million from 1984 to 1986, and $150 million annually thereafter, according to the California Coalition for Fair School Finance, a nonprofit organization that says it does not take stands on issues.
According to the coalition, polls show roughly equal numbers of vot-ers for and against Proposition 36 but a lot of undecided voters.
In addition to the property-tax-limitation measure, Californians will vote next week on a state-lottery initiative. Proposition 37 would amend the state constitution to allow a lottery with a minimum of 34 percent of all proceeds going to education.
The proposal has been intensely debated in recent weeks by state officials and educators. Proponents of the measure project, on the basis of lottery receipts in other Western states, that the lottery could bring in $1.7 billion in the first year.
But opponents, who include Gov. George Deukmejian, have countered that the lottery is not a stable source of income. They also say they fear that future legislators may decide not to allocate additional monies for education on the presumption that the lottery can provide adequate funds.
The latest polls show that the initiative is ahead by 4 to 1, according to the California Coalition for Fair School Finance.
In Michigan, Proposition C, or the "Voters' Choice Initiative," would roll back all state and many local property taxes to their December 1981 levels, and would require voter approval of all future increases, with the exception of local taxes that have already been approved by voters.
Education leaders in Michigan have charged that the rollback plan would reduce support for the state's elementary and secondary schools by about $435 million. (See Education Week, Oct. 17, 1984.)
The state board of education has voted to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment, arguing that Michigan school districts would lose more than $500 million a year in state and local revenues if it is approved. "Such extraordinary restrictions on the authority of state and local legislative bodies constitute a significant change in representative government in Michigan," the board said in a statement this month.
In Oregon, citizens will vote next week on Ballot Measure 2, a 1.5-percent property-tax-limitation measure sponsored by the Oregon Taxpayers' Union. That measure would limit property taxes to $15 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, would roll back assessments to 1981 levels, and would restrict growth to 2 percent per year, according to state education officials.
The Oregon Committee, a group that has spent $273,000 campaigning against the measure in the last five months, charges that Measure 2 would severely hurt education.
"It will devastate it," said Mark Nelson, director of the Oregon Committee. "It will basically take in the neighborhood of $700 million out of the educational system with no replacement revenue and no chance for replacement revenue."
Gov. Victor G. Atiyeh, a member of the Oregon Committee, has compared the measure with "playing Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded." The Oregon Education Association is also a committee supporter.
According to pre-election estimates, Mr. Nelson said, about 58 percent of Oregon voters support the measure, but he said the opposition is gaining slowly as a result of the committee's media and direct-mail efforts.
Nevada's Question 12
Voters in Nevada will decide on Question 12, a property-tax-limitation measure that would make tax increases subject to two-thirds approval of the legislature at the state level or two-thirds of the governing body at the local level, plus popular approval at the next general or special election.
And the measure would limit annual growth in property-tax revenue to 5 percent, regardless of new development or growth, according to Michael Alastuey, associate state superintendent for finance.
"There are many sectors that are coming forth with opposition to the question, including the Governor, almost all of our school districts, the state board of education, educators, and teachers," Mr. Alastuey said.
Although a number of state-level candidates have joined in a bipartisan effort to defeat the measure, Mr. Alastuey said, early polls indicate the public favors the proposal.
Local Levies in Ohio
Ohio does not have education-related initiatives on the state ballot this year, but some educators there believe that local education measures may be in danger because of a decision last year to allocate 30 to 40 percent of state-lottery proceeds to education.
Ohio has had a lottery system for 10 years, but fiscal 1984 marked the first year that state proceeds--specifically $250 million--went to elementary and secondary education, according to the Ohio Lottery Commission. Education officials say they are concerned that the 160 local school levies and bond issues on the ballot may fail because of voters' belief that proceeds from the lottery provide adequate funds for education.
Franklin B. Walter, Ohio's superintendent of public instruction, has pointed out that the entire profits of the lottery would finance only nine days of school in Ohio. "Both state and local funding are required for our schools," Mr. Walter said. "School districts need support for local issues in addition to the state funds."
Thomas V. Chema, director of the Ohio Lottery Commission, agrees. In a speech to the state board of education, he said: "Obviously, the lottery's contribution is not, nor will it ever be, the sole or even principal source of funding for our schools."
No Vouchers on Ballots
Although there has been discussion of putting education-voucher proposals on state ballots this year, no states have such initiatives on their Nov. 6 ballots, according to Mr. McGuigan.
In August, a proposed referendum that would mandate a statewide voucher system in Colorado failed its first test when supporters were unable to obtain the 47,000 signatures required to put the proposal on the ballot in November.
"There's been a lot of talk, particularly in California, of doing a voucher initiative, but so far that's what it's been," Mr. McGuigan said. In 1982, voucher supporters in California led an unsuccessful campaign to place an initiative on the ballot.
"The explanation as to why [voucher initiatives] are not on any ballots is that they haven't gotten their acts together," he added.
West Virginians will vote next week on a proposed constitutional amendment to allow "voluntary contemplation, meditation, or prayer in schools" for those students who wish to use such time. The measure was referred to the ballot following its approval by the state legislature in its 1984 session.
"It basically requires that the teacher set aside a short period of time each day for students to voluntarily think or contemplate or meditate or pray," said Elnora Pepper, a public-information officer for the West Virginia Department of Education.
The measure allows teachers to define the length of the period of contemplation, she said.
There has not been any organized opposition to the measure, which has 70-percent support in public-opinion polls. School boards would be required to implement it upon passage, according to Keith Larson, a legislative analyst.
A number of other state ballot measures deal with school-construction and tax-levy bonds. For a complete listing of states' education-related ballot propositions, see the accompanying table.