Are we supposed to vote or something?

“Were we supposed to vote on some propositions or something?”  reads the email from my husband. I am in Sacramento this weekend to attend the California School Boards Association‘s Legislative Action Conference, so he must have heard something about an election on the news and wondered whether we missed it.

Nope, we haven’t missed it, hon — but you’re forgiven for not being sure. Most people don’t seem to be paying much attention to Tuesday’s Special Election, and the few that are seem to be pretty negative on the whole thing; pollsters say most of the measures will fail.  But the Democratic Party, the California Teachers Association and most of our local legislators are either supporting or neutral on the six measures on the ballot, which are supposed to give the state flexibility to maneuver during the ongoing budget crisis. The state’s other teachers’ union, the smaller California Federation of Teachers, is opposing all of the measures except 1B.

For my part, I’ve been seesawing back and forth between disgust at being brought to this point and fear about what will happen if the measures don’t pass. Most of them are awful–band-aid budgeting and gimmickry at its worst, with no hope of addressing our structural budget problems (e.g., too much dependence on volatile personal income taxes as revenue, and too little flexibility in state spending to easily adjust if revenues fall short) over the long-term.

But the situation we are facing is scary, and it’s even scarier if the measures don’t pass. This week, the Governor’s office said the state’s two-year (2008-09 and 2009-10 combined) budget shortfall will be $15 to $20 billion depending on the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.  Even if the measures pass, almost $700 million will be cut from K-12 education for the current school year. (Yes, 2008-09, even though there are only about six weeks left in the fiscal year!). And if they don’t pass, K-12 education loses almost $1 billion (yes, again, for the CURRENT year!).  I don’t know how those cuts work in practical terms, since all of the money for the school year has already been spent or pledged, but you can bet it’s not going to be pretty.

I also don’t know how those numbers translate to cuts for San Francisco Unified; it’s one of my questions for the budget folks on Tuesday evening (conveniently, election eve). We have been planning for a worst-case scenario and maintaining a healthy reserve, so that will help our situation.  But on the statewide front, the news is so bad in either scenario that in the long run, however one votes won’t really make a difference. It’s going to hurt either way.

So, barring any new information that is convincing enough to change my mind, here’s how I’m planning to vote (and how I’m telling my husband to vote!):

  • 1A (Cuts spending and establishes a Rainy Day fund): NO – this is no way to make good public policy;
  • 1B (Repays school districts later for budget cuts now): YES – 1B does not take effect without 1A, so this is a protest vote that will have no practical effect but feels good;
  • 1C (Restructures the state lottery): NO – I am OK with borrowing against future lottery revenues but don’t like that the proceeds go in the general fund instead of funding education;
  • 1D (Cuts in services for children age 5 and younger): NO;
  • 1E (Cuts in mental health services funding): NO;
  • 1F (Prevents pay increases for legislators): NO – this is a basically meaningless measure (CFT calls it “faux populist”) that is just there to make people feel good by sticking it to the Legislature, but hey–support it if it makes you feel better.

Much of the discussion at this weekend’s conference has been about ways to advocate for long-term budget reforms, and about what those reforms should be. I’ll blog about that tomorrow.

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