By Len Feldman
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission has released final maps of new legislative and congressional districts, which will be used for the next 10 years, commencing with the 2012 elections.
Districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect the latest census figures. In the past the new lines have been drawn by the Legislature, but with the passage of Propositions 11 and 20, a citizens’ commission was established to draw the new lines this year. The resulting changes — which affect the shape and the voter base in every Assembly, Senate and congressional district in the state — have the potential to help public education. With a bit of hard work by CTA members before and during the 2012 primary and general elections, a new crop of elected officials committed to securing desperately needed revenues for schools could be put in office.
Constrained by constitutional provisions and court decisions, the commission was charged with drawing districts that fairly represent minority groups, include communities of interest, and connect geographically. The final maps they have created could be challenged in the courts or subjected to referenda, but language in the initiatives creating the commission and expanding its duties requires that any such challenges must be handled expeditiously so that new maps can used for the 2012 elections.
Redistricting could have significant implications for the state budget process. If the results of the 2012 elections create a new supermajority in the Legislature, it might be possible to raise new state revenues on a simple majority vote. Current law allows the Legislature to approve a state budget on a simple majority vote, but raising new state revenues still requires a two-thirds supermajority of both houses of the Legislature. During the 2011 budget stalemate, the state was held in the grip of a small group of anti-tax lawmakers whose votes were needed to approve any new revenues or change in the tax structure. As a result, the governor and legislators were forced to balance the state budget with massive cuts and deferrals. Although they tried hard to spare education, school funding has been cut by more than $18 billion over the past three years. To restore funding for schools and to boost appropriations to the level they were during Gov. Reagan’s term, Californians will need to elect more centrist lawmakers willing to support revenue increases and tax fairness.
Schools could also benefit if more pro-education members of Congress were elected as a result of redistricting. Positive changes could be made in the Elementar y and Secondary Education Act, which has still not been reauthorized; the federal tax structure could be changed to provide more federal funding for schools; and special interests could be called upon to pay their fair share for public services. More pro-education members of Congress could also speed up the ongoing efforts to eliminate provisions in the Social Security law that penalize public employees, including educators in California. Many lose Social Security benefits they earned before going into education or benefits earned by non-teaching spouses.
For more information about the maps, visit the Citizens Redistricting Commission website: wedrawthelines.ca.gov/maps-final-drafts.