PASADENA – At the recent State of School Address in
Pasadena, school board President Renatta Cooper applauded the gains made by
PUSD schools in light of the massive state budget cuts.
The Pasadena Unified School District was forced to trim more
than $20 million from its budget in recent years. The exact number is the
subject of debate.
Cooper’s claim that the state has put the squeeze on school
funding only tells half of the story, placing the blame solely on Sacramento.
Now any blogger who spends his time defending Sacramento
lawmakers, won’t make any friends on the blogosphere, so please don’t take this
as an attempt to stand up for big government. This is really about context.
Propositions 98 and 13 control the level of funding that
goes to California public schools.
Proposition 98 sets the bare minimum for the percentage of
the state budget allocated to schools, (the number is about 40 percent of the
total budget and get jiggered each years as state legislators put some of the
tax money into the fee portion of the budget thus hiding it from the pot of
money available for schools and other programs).
In fact, two-thirds of California’s operating budget is tied
Yes, lawmakers could decide to fund schools above the limits
set in Proposition 98, but that’s like expecting a teenager to cut the grass without
having to yell at him nine times to do so.
And anyone who has ever been a teenager knows you could yell
at him nine times and your front yard could still end up looking like an
Proposition 13 capped the amount of funding available from
property tax income and put the state in control of the lion’s share of tax
allocation. The law also made it difficult for municipalities to levy
any new taxes on their residents (the two-thirds supermajority rule that kept
Pasadena’s Measure CC school parcel tax from passing).
But the limits put on tax revenues by Proposition 13 have
crippled the state’s ability to finance much of its obligations: prisons,
schools, universities and roads.
The ballot initiative that Californians were convinced was
going to keep their parents and grandparents from getting booted from their
homes by tax greedy politicians was funded – and has been vigorously protected
ever since – by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Jarvis, the guy
waiting in the cab in the movie Airplane, was white knight for older
Californians, who used the ballot initiative like a sword to vanquish
But what Jarvis actually did was to create inequity in the
level of taxes paid by homeowners in the same block — a form of generational
warfare where young people are punished for not having bought homes thirty
years ago when property values and hence property taxes were lower and when the
young person was four years old.
More importantly, Jarvis saved corporations from being
reassessed on business transactions of commercial property.
Propositions 13 and 98 had another nefarious effect on
California voters. Ballot initiatives are a political ejection seat. Things get
too hot in Sacramento, just put it on the ballot and let the voters deal with
the problem. Politicians get to take a position on the issue without casting a
Voters, on the other hand, are left with no one to blame for
the long-term mess. Voters refuse to blame themselves for any of the mess they
have created. Thus Proposition 13 is a classic example of myopic voter thinking
– I will save myself and the state be damned.
And maybe this is Sacramento’s most spectacular trick.
Lawmakers convinced the people to take away the capitol’s ability to legislate,
making lawmakers unaccountable for the result.
But 33 years since Proposition 13 and 23 years since Proposition
98, educators, board members and parents protest and hold up signs calling for
Sacramento to save teachers and keep cuts from the classroom.
But the long-term viability of public education in the state
mandates a change to the funding mechanism. The state needs to change
Proposition 13 (it could means test property tax so working class don’t bear any additional tax burden people and levy higher taxes on wealthier homeowners; the state could also
close the corporate and inheritance loophole).
Such a move would likely need the support of voters through
a ballot initiative.
So the next time, teachers, principals and superintendents
plan a protest in Sacramento or downtown Los Angeles, maybe they should
consider demonstrating on their neighbor’s lawn. Your neighbor holds the key to
the state budget.