November 2012 ballot looks crowded with initiatives

Last week I was in San Diego for the California School Boards Association annual conference — and I’m working on a series of blog posts about issues I dug into there. Most pressing, however, is the number of initiatives that are being discussed to fix California’s revenue and/or spending, reform its educational and/or governance systems, or some combination thereof.

Qualifying an initiative for the ballot is not easy, so some of the measures we’ve read about will not actually make it to the ballot, but there are enough proposals in the works that political and education policy wonks are beginning to worry that the voters’ clear desire for a solution to our current problems will get lost in a confusing jumble of competing campaigns.

In the conference’s closing “State of the State” roundtable discussion on Saturday, CSBA’s legislative advocate Rick Pratt (soon to be the lead consultant for the Assembly Education Committee) didn’t mince words: “If all four [tax] initiatives make it to the ballot, none will pass.” And where would that lead us? Right back to where we are now, but a year later.

Here are proposals that received a lot of discussion at the conference:

  • “Think Long Blueprint for California”:  Billionnaire Nicholas Berggruen has assembled a committee of former legislators and heavy-hitters, including former Governor Gray Davis and former Assembly Speaker and SF Mayor Willie Brown. Its not-yet-public initiative would lower the overall tax rate but vastly expand taxation to services, raising at least $10 billion annually. It would form a somewhat scary-sounding Citizens Oversight Committee (appointed by the Legislature), with powers to unilaterally place initiatives on the ballot. Additional revenues would go to schools, but for specific, constrained purposes.
  • “2012 Kids Education Plan” : Ted Lempert, the director of the advocacy organization Children Now, has been working with stakeholders up and down the state to build a coalition of support for four principles that would form the backbone of an as-yet unseen initiative. These are: “a student-centered finance system”; “true transparency”; “significant workforce reforms”, and “new investments in education.” It sounds good, but the devil will be in the details.
  • “Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act”: The California State PTA and the civil rights organization The Advancement Project filed this initiative on November 30 and are beginning the push to collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures necessary to qualify it. The law would raise $10 billion in new tax revenue for Pre-K-12 education, and require those funds to be spent “at the local school sites, where kids are, not district administration.” It would prohibit the Legislature from directing how monies were spent, placing the new revenues in a  trust fund. The initiative would require re-approval by voters after 12 years.
  • Other miscellaneous tax proposals include an oil and gas extraction tax, and a “split roll” which would suspend Prop. 13 for commercial properties, allowing them to be re-assessed every year.

Update: Just this afternoon, Governor Brown announced he has filed his own initiative. From the Governor’s initiative announcing his action:

My proposal is straightforward and fair.  It proposes a temporary tax increase on the wealthy, a modest and temporary increase in the sales tax, and guarantees that the new revenues be spent only on education.  Here are the details:

  • Millionaires and high-income earners will pay up to 2% higher income taxes for five years. No family making less than $500,000 a year will see their income taxes rise. In fact, fewer than 2% of California taxpayers will be affected by this increase.
  • There will be a temporary ½ cent increase in the sales tax.  Even with this temporary increase, sales taxes will still be lower than what they were less than six months ago.

More details on Brown’s initiative is here.

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One response to “November 2012 ballot looks crowded with initiatives

  1. Thanks for the link to the Think Long site. The more I read about their proposals, the more problematic I find them. It’s interesting to me that they seem very concerned about California corporate tax rates and their effects on job creation, but not so much about the impact that service taxes might have on small businesses providing non-essential services.

    I also find their school reform suggestions problematic, particularly those around “digital learning opportunities”, which seem to be at once extremely expensive and very poorly vetted.