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Calif. Votes To Relax Ceiling on Spending Growth

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California voters last week approved two ballot questions with important implications for education, while also returning the state's top education official to a third four-year term.

Proposition 111, the more highly publicized of the two referendums, was primarly devoted to raising the gasoline tax in order to aid the state's overburdened transportation system. It passed with 52 percent of the vote.

In addition, the measure would alter provisions of the school-funding guarantee in the state constitution and relax a ceiling on spending growth.

Also approved, with 56 percent of the vote, was an $800-million bond issue for school construction.

By winning a 55 percent majority in a nonpartisan primary contest, Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig was re-elected without having to be on the ballot again in November.

Locking in Gains

The battle over Proposition 111 had drawn considerable national attention as an indicator of public willingness to accept tax increases.

For education groups in the state, however, the key question about the proposal was its potential effect on Proposition 98, the 1988 ballot question that put budget protections for public schools and community colleges into the constitution.

Some education groups, notably the California Teachers Association, intitially had threatened to oppose Proposition 111 for fear it would undermine that fiscal guarantee.

After negotiating changes in the text of Proposition 111 in the legislature, however, the union decided to support it.

Some educators also argued that it would be better to modify Proposition 98 now than to have it possibly cause budget distortions in the future that might create a politicalbacklash against education funding.

Educators last week hailed Proposition 111's narrow victory.

"This locks in our Proposition 98 gains," said Mr. Honig.

As approved by voters, Proposition 111 would:

Cap the maximum dollar amount that the education-funding requirement could grow in any year.

Hold down the mandatory growth in education spending during tight budget years.

Prohibit the legislature from suspending Proposition 98.

Use growth in personal income, rather than inflation, to calculate school-aid increases--thus ensuring larger increases in some years.

--hd

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