Policy Brief

Voters in California Face Fiscal Issues

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California’s rolling budget disaster goes before the voters next week in the form of two linked ballot propositions—one of which is intended to settle a legal dispute about whether K-12 schools and community colleges are owed $9.3 billion by the state.

If approved by Californians on May 19, Proposition 1B would require the state to pay $7.9 billion that education groups say schools are owed for the current fiscal year under a 1988 ballot measure, Proposition 98, which set a minimum school funding guarantee. The payments would begin in 2011 and include an additional $1.4 billion in funds for the previous two fiscal years.

But Proposition 1B cannot be adopted unless Proposition 1A—which would cap state spending and increase the rainy-day budget-reserve fund—is also passed. And by tying the two initiatives together, the legislature has gained a strong ally in the 340,000-member California Teachers Association, which has contributed a total of $8.5 million in support of both.

"This is money that’s owed to the schools to the tune of $9.3 billion. It needs to be put back in schools," David Sanchez, the president of the CTA, a National Education Association affiliate, said of Proposition 1B.

State leaders had planned for lower repayments under the school funding guarantee because of the state’s continuing financial crisis, but came up with Proposition 1B when school groups threatened to sue.

"It’s an agreement between the governor, the legislature, and the education communities," said Edgar Cabral, an analyst for California's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The California Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, supports Proposition 1B—but not the companion measure.

"Prop 1A is a disaster for California,” said Marty Hittleman, the president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate. "The funding cap starts at a low level, the rate of increases allowed don’t reflect increasing costs, ... and it gives the governor unilateral power to cut budgets without approval by legislature."

The latest survey by the California-based Field Poll shows both measures trailing among likely voters.

Vol. 28, Issue 31, Page 19

Published in Print: May 13, 2009, as Voters in California Face Fiscal Issues
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