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Brown, CFT Merge Competing Ballot Propositions; California State PTA Still Backing Munger Initiative

By Jeff Hudson - March 22, 2012

Governor Jerry Brown (and the California Teachers Association) struck a deal with the California Federation of Teachers last week, announcing a hybrid merger of their competing ballot propositions designed to restore state funding education. But the California State PTA is still backing lawyer/activist Molly Munger’s proposed ballot measure (“Our Children, Our Future”), so the state’s voters may still be faced with a choice between two rival measures on the November ballot.

On March 14, Brown announced the deal, with support from Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and others. The Governor’s press release maintained:

The new initiative integrates the Governor's original initiative with the Millionaires Tax Initiative. The new merged initiative is designed to balance the state budget, prevent further cuts to education, provide a progressive tax structure and provide constitutional protections of public safety realignment funding, with the following adjustments:

  1. Lowers the proposed sales tax increase from ½ cent to ¼ cent.
  2. Adjusts the top two upper income brackets from a 1.5% increase to a 2% increase for incomes over $600,000 for joint filers and from 2% to 3% for incomes over $1 million for joint filers. (The bracket for incomes over $500,000 for joint filers remains at a 1% increase).
  3. The income tax increases will be in place for an additional 2 years, through 2018, while the sales tax increase will still sunset after 2016.

“This united effort makes victory more likely and will go a long way toward balancing our budget and protecting our schools, universities and public safety,” said Governor Brown.

The California Federation of Teachers, which had backed the proposed “Millioniare Tax” initiative, was equally jubilant at the merger:

“Our coalition welcomes the opportunity to join Governor Brown, Senate Pro-tem Steinberg, Speaker Pérez and their allies in crafting this win-win measure,” said Joshua Pechthalt, President of the California Federation of Teachers and a co-chair of the Millionaire Tax Campaign.

“The values and principles of fair, progressive tax policy are clearly reflected in this joint initiative.  The new measure will bring in more money for schools and services, and a greater contribution from the wealthiest Californians.  It boosts the proposal for the top income tax to a 3% contribution from taxpayers making more than a million dollars.  It reduces the governor’s proposed half-cent sales tax to a quarter cent, and thus reduces the burden on working families.

“The funds will benefit the communities that have been hit hardest by budget cuts and provides assistance for our cash-strapped higher education institutions. At the same time as thousands of teachers and school staff are being told they might not be employed next September, we note that this measure will begin to restore the damage done by years of inadequate revenues.

“We had wanted a permanent income tax, and the governor had wanted a four year horizon.  The new income tax will sunset at seven years.  This is a compromise, but it remains a very progressive tax measure. (The sales tax will still end at four years.) These changes will generate $9 billion in additional vital funding in the next fiscal year, and two billion dollars more than the governor's previous initiative.  Approximately 85% of the revenue will come from the highest income tax brackets, and 15% through the reduced sales tax, to support the restoration of programs in education and social services that have been decimated in recent years.  Overall this is an important step forward for California, and we are pleased to support its passage in November."

The California Teachers Association was quick to back the deal. Even though a March 8 CTA press release had described the CFT’s “Millionaire Tax” as containing “fatal flaws,” CTA President Dean Vogel offered the sunny assessment on March 14 that the merged version of the two initiatives was “good news,” adding:

The new plan uses the structure of the governor’s initiative to ensure additional revenues will flow through the state general fund to close the state’s budget deficit and to restore cuts to schools, colleges and other essential public services. It also promotes tax fairness by increasing income taxes on the wealthiest Californians.

Meantime, the California State PTA indicated an intention to stand by Munger’s proposed initiative titled “Our Children, Our Future.” In a statement released on March 19 (five days after merger of the other two proposed initiatives), the CFT said:

The campaign has launched a new ad to highlight the per-school benefit provided by the “Our Children, Our Future” education initiative. Californians can use the Our Children Our Future Benefit Calculator (http://ourchildrenourfuture2012.com/benefits-calculator.aspx) to find out how much their local school will benefit from the “Our Children, Our Future Act.”

“The more people know about the ‘Our Children, Our Future’ education initiative, the more they like it,” said Addisu Demissie, campaign manager. “Californians are fed up after years of deep budget cuts to their local schools. This ad will let more Californians know that they have the power to make a transformative difference in the lives of students in our schools by supporting the ‘Our Children, Our Future’ education act.”

Our Children, Our Future will raise $10 billion annually over the next 12 years for direct investment in public school classrooms and early education programs, and earmarks 30 percent of the new revenue for the first four years to help California pay down state education-bond debt. For the remaining eight years, the initiative directs 85 percent of the new funds to K-12 schools and 15 percent to early childhood education programs.

The “Our Children, Our Future” initiative requires that funds must be used to improve student performance and gives local school boards the authority to decide – with community input – how new education funds will be spent at each school site, rather than mandating a “one- size-fits-all” policy from Sacramento.

(The measure) fairly shares the costs among Californians and asks those in the wealthiest 1 percent to pay the most because they are most able to afford it. The initiative raises income tax rates on a sliding scale from four-tenths of 1 percent to 2.2 percent on multi-millionaires. To keep the increases affordable, it applies only to incomes after all deductions are taken.

The State PTA’s stress on “the more people know (about “Our Children, Our Future), the more they like it” doubtless stems from late February polls that showed 48 percent of voters opposed “Our Children, Our Future” at that time, compared to 45 percent of voters in favor.

Brown’s proposed ballot initiative fared better in the late February polls, with 58 percent of voters in favor, and 36 percent of voters opposed.

But the CFT-backed “Millionaire Tax” fared best in the late February polls, with 63 percent of voters in favor, and 31 percent opposed. This dynamic undoubtedly reinforced Gov. Brown’s willingness to merge his proposed ballot initiative with the CFT’s.

Veteran columnist George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times – who’s covered state government since 1974 (including Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor in the ‘70s) – wrote a column recalling Brown’s remarkably swift transformation in 1978 from a Prop. 13 foe into a Proposition 13 enthusiast (after California voters approved Prop. 13 by a 58 percent margin, despite Brown’s stiff opposition). Skelton dubbed Brown’s performance this month as “acrobatic” in terms of the merger of the two proposed initiatives. Skelton added:

The governor basically got rolled by the California Federation of Teachers, the smaller of the two major teachers unions. The largest union, the California Teachers Assn., had endorsed Brown's original tax-hike initiative.

Brown cut a deal with the CFT to avoid butting heads on the November ballot with its "millionaires' tax," which would have socked the rich hard but absolutely no one else. Punching multimillionaires is particularly popular these days as the gap widens between the haves and have-nots.

Skelton also remarked:

Here was a Democratic governor not negotiating with Republicans the way our two-party system is supposed to function. It was not a negotiation between left and right, but rather between left and far left.

Columnist Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle – who often strikes a contrarian/conservative stance in the state’s most Democratic-leaning major city – summarized the decision to merge Brown’s tax initiative with the CFT-backed “Millionare’s Tax” as a practical decision:

“Clearly the governor's team saw this as the best deal, but I think the governor would have been better off fighting both the teachers union and Munger, than opposing Munger only while pushing CFT-lite.”

The next round of polls will likely offer some indication of whether Brown’s “merger” strategy or the State PTA’s “stick to your guns” stance will pay the greater political dividend. Many California voters don’t “tune in” to the details of state ballot propositions until the final weeks of the campaign, so educators may have to wait until October to get a clear indication of how the election is likely to go.

Editor's Note:  Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.