In a major boost for Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to balance the state’s budget, the California Teachers Association (CTA) yesterday endorsed his proposed initiative for the November ballot that would yield billions of dollars for California schools.
“Educators know that California cannot continue to cut its way out of ongoing budget problems,” said Dean Vogel, president of the association which represents more than 300,000 teachers. The endorsement was made by the CTA State Council of Education, made up of nearly 800 elected representatives, at its quarterly meeting in Los Angeles.
The CTA endorsement is one of the most significant—if not the most significant—that Brown could hope to receive. It will almost certainly bring millions of dollars that will be needed to gather signatures, as well as to mount an election campaign.
With an expenditure of some $13.7 million in the last election cycle, the CTA was the largest single contributor to a series of ballot propositions on the November 2010 ballot. That included the highly significant Proposition 25, which was approved by voters, reducing the vote needed in the Legislature to approve a state budget from a two thirds vote to a simple majority.
In his speech to the delegates Saturday, Vogel indicated that the State Council of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has also voted to back Brown’s initiative. SEIU officials would not confirm its endorsement. But if it is in fact the case, Brown would have secured the support of two of the most valuable organizations in terms of the financial and hands-on support he most needs to win passage. Like the CTA, SEIU has the ability to generate ground troops to mobilize volunteers and other support for the initiative and get out the vote on election day.
Brown’s initiative would raise sales taxes by a half-cent and income taxes on taxpayers who make more than $250,000 per year before sunsetting in five years.
Although a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll released last week shows voters from all political parties inclined to support the initiative, passage is by no means certain, as PPIC President Mark Baldassare pointed out. “The challenge the governor faces with his tax initiative is that one generally popular tax increase—raising personal income taxes on the wealthy—is paired with one generally unpopular one: raising the state sales tax,” Baldassare said on release of the survey.
Also clouding the prospects for passage is the possibility of other similar initiatives being on the same ballot. One, endorsed by the California Federation of Teachers, and another supported by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, daughter of Charles Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway, have both been submitted for vetting by Attorney General Kamala Harris. Also being discussed is a “2012 Kids Education Plan” being promoted by Children Now and others.
Most political observers believe that having more than one tax initiative on the ballot makes it more likely that none will pass, as Vogel noted in his speech.
Munger’s initiative has received the notable endorsement of the California State PTA. A major difference from Brown’s initiative is that all the funds raised by Brown’s would count towards the state’s general fund, while much of Munger’s would be earmarked for a special fund for K-12 and early childhood education. Because of the complexities of the state’s school financing system, Munger’s initiative would not contribute to closing the budget deficit as much as Brown’s would, even though it would generate more in funding for the schools.
“We must come together with the broadest coalition possible to have a chance at passing any funding initiative,” Vogel said. “If we are not united and have multiple proposals on the ballot, we all lose.”
And then, referring to the high stakes resting on the outcome of the election, he added, “Losing is not an option for this election and victory isn’t going to be easy.”
There have been intensive behind-the-scenes discussions about reaching a consensus on a single initiative. One group, the Think Long Committee, has chosen not to go ahead with its planned initiative, which would have gotten the financial support of billionaire Nicolas Berggruen and other high net-worth individuals. The group did not announce which initiative it would support, although it indicated that it plans “to partner with other organizations by generously supporting one or more reform measures.”
Vogel made reference to the other initiatives that are still in play. “The governor’s initiative is the only initiative that provides additional revenues for our classrooms and closes the state budget deficit, and guarantees local communities will receive funds to pay for the realignment of local health and public safety services that the Legislature approved last year,” he argued.