On the Education Ballot This Fall: School Spending and Taxes

By Sean Cavanagh — September 30, 2010 2 min read
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Most election seasons offer a least a couple big-ticket ballot items that have consequences for schools. This year is no exception.

Interest groups, including teachers’ unions, pour tons of money into supporting or killing ballot measures. This year, two major California teachers’ unions are backing Propositions 24 and 25, which would have an impact on taxes and spending in the state, and by extension, affect the money available for schools. California’s schools have faced major cuts in recent years, amounting to $17 billion over a two-year period.

Proposition 24 would close a number of recently enacted tax breaks for corporations. It’s backed by both the 325,000-member California Teachers Association which says and the 120,000 member California Federation of Teachers. The CTA says the ballot item would stave off “deeper cuts to public schools and services” in the state “by ending nearly $2 billion in special corporate tax loopholes.”

Not everyone agrees. The Fresno Bee speculates that closing the loopholes could “put California at a disadvantage in terms of recruiting and retaining businesses.”

Proposition 25, meanwhile, would lower the legislative threshold for passing state budgets from a two-thirds vote to a majority. Not only that, but if lawmakers sluff off on the job, they end up lighter in the wallet. The language of the measure says that if legislators fail to pass a budget by June 15, all of them will “permanently forfeit any reimbursement for salary and expenses for every day” until the day they do.

Nothing like the prospect of a lost paycheck, I suppose, to focus the mind.

The teachers’ unions like Prop 25, arguing that the high bar for passing spending plans produces gridlock and leads to lawmakers carving out special deals at the last minute to pick up votes, a process that in the end hurt schools. The California Taxpayers’ Association thinks otherwise, saying the two-thirds hurdle is a “check on government waste.”

Just three states—Arkansas, California and Rhode Island—require a supermajority vote each budget cycle to pass appropriations bills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (In Arkansas, the vote required is three-fourths.) Of the 47 states that require a simple majority vote, six—Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Mississippi and Nebraska—require a supermajority under certain conditions, NCSL says.

Looking beyond California, what’s your favorite, or least favorite, school-related item on the ballot this year?

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.