By Len Feldman
Sen. Bill Emmerson (R-Hemet) hears from a group of his teacher constituents, who urge him to support the tax extensions and the governor's budget proposal, which would boost school funding by more than $3 billion.
Following a week of CTA State of Emergency activities at the state Capitol and in cities around California, Gov. Jerry Brown on May 16 proposed an updated budget reversing a multibillion-dollar deferral that would have delayed funding for schools. “We are heartened by the governor’s support for public education in his May Revision,” said CTA President David A. Sanchez. “He is clearly keeping his promises and working to secure for public schools and colleges the funds that are desperately needed to restore programs and avoid more layoffs. We will continue to work to secure the four Republican votes needed to approve the temporary tax extensions upon which his May Revision depends.”
State of Emergency activities by CTA, parents, labor and students helped drive home forcefully to elected officials and the public the plight of public schools and colleges, and the devastating impact of three years of cuts — more than $20 billion — on the state’s nearly 9 million K-14 students.
The governor told reporters at a Capitol news conference that his proposal would bring school funding to $52.4 billion, $3 billion more than he proposed in January. The governor conceded that schools would still be receiving less than they did in 2007-08. He stated that it would take several years to restore funding to that level.
In order for schools and other programs to avoid further cuts, the Legislature must pass the May Revision, which includes the temporary tax extensions. An all-cuts budget would require a suspension of Proposition 98 with deep reductions to schools.
The governor emphasized that his revised spending plan relies on the extension of the state’s temporary taxes. He said that Republican lawmakers’ refusal to approve his revenue proposal would lead him to his own Plans B and C — but he refused to spell out what those plans would be.
The governor said he has been working hard to secure the total of four Republican votes needed for his spending plan, which ratchets back some of the tax extensions he had previously proposed, including one that would have boosted personal income taxes for the coming year.
The governor said that even though some tax increases would precede a popular vote, the proposal meets with his campaign pledge: “There are no taxes without a vote of the people — this is a program with a vote of the people.”
The governor’s release of the May Revision typically marks the start of an intense period of fiscal negotiations with the Legislature. Generally, the state Senate and the Assembly separately make revisions to the governor’s proposal. Often a joint Assembly-Senate conference committee is empowered to meld the two legislative spending plans into one final document. That budget is due to the governor by June 15, and he is required by the state constitution to sign a final version by June 30.
This year’s process is likely to be more complicated, because — unlike the budget itself — the tax extensions the governor has proposed require a two-thirds supermajority in both houses. Getting that supermajority requires four Republican votes, and Republican leaders have been unwilling to provide any so far.
Hundreds of chapter leaders lobby for school funding
On May 18, several hundred leaders of local CTA chapters were hard at work in the state Capitol. They came to Sacramento to persuade lawmakers to provide the two-thirds vote required to pass the governor’s tax extension proposal, which would raise billions of additional dollars for public education.
The CTA representatives visited the offices of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers seeking to firm up support for the tax extensions, which would preserve more than $10 billion for education and other vital services.
The CTA members told stories of how budget cuts of more than $20 billion have decimated their local schools, ballooned class sizes, and eliminated counselors, nurses, and vital services to their students.
Often, the educators shared with lawmakers physical representations of the harm being done to their students.
Chapter leaders from Monterey brought to the office of one of their lawmakers, Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), a poster created by parents that featured photos of their children. The poster’s headline drove home the message: “Cuts Hurt Monterey Peninsula Students.” The parents had asked the chapter members to use the poster to help convince lawmakers of the dire need for more funding for public schools.
While lawmakers can pass a budget on a simple majority vote, state law requires a two-thirds supermajority to enact or extend revenues.
During the Presidents Lobby Day and the State of Emergency mobilization in the Capitol, CTA members put a high priority on helping to round up the four Republican votes — two in the Assembly and two in the state Senate — that would provide the two-thirds supermajority.
They also sought to counter an element of the GOP’s own budget proposal that would illegally suspend the state’s Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) and pare another $500 million from public education.
The CTA chapter presidents committed to working with their members, parents, and community members to visit their lawmakers in their home area offices and press them to provide the financial support that public schools desperately need.
LAO: Proposal is sound, but election poses uncertainty
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) concluded that Gov. Brown’s May Revision represents a “serious proposal” that would address the state’s ongoing fiscal problems. The appraisal of the spending plan came in “The 2011-12 Budget: Overview of the May Revision,” which was released on the LAO website (lao.ca.gov).
Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor told reporters during a Capitol news conference that his greatest concern about Gov. Brown’s budget revision is the uncertainty that would come with the Legislature and the governor sending the tax extension proposals to the voters for their approval.
Taylor said the uncertainty would have a significant impact on the state’s ability to issue Revenue Anticipation Notes or RANs, instruments sold to investors to raise cash temporarily until state revenues are collected. Taylor said the state could have to sell about $10 billion in RANs this coming year.
Taylor pointed out that schools and other entities would face problems as they try to budget for the coming year without knowing whether some of the proposed funding will disappear before the year is out.
Taylor said the most certainty would come if the governor and lawmakers approved the taxes themselves, but if an election is in the offing, he would recommend that it be held late in the 2011-12 fiscal year. He would also propose that the Legislature and governor adopt new revenues, some or all of the ones proposed or others, to take effect for the entire year prior to the public vote.
Citing the impact of economic uncertainty on schools and other public services, CTA representatives have been urging the governor and the Legislature to approve the tax extensions themselves, without putting a referendum on the ballot.
Taylor commended the governor for tackling the state’s debt. He said the governor is using the bulk of the additional funding for schools — about $2 billion of the $3 billion increase to schools — to cover deferrals.
Taylor said he was glad that the state had some good news in the form of $6.1 billion in unanticipated revenues. However, he cautioned that forecasters were disagreeing about the reasons for the increase and how much new revenue the state would receive in the months and years ahead.
Related Tags: Volume 15 Issue 8, Action, Educator, Budget, State Government, Advocacy, Cuts, Layoffs, Lawmaker, Leadership, Inside Educator,