Prop. 30: If it fails, then it holds teacher pay hostage, not kids

Oct. 30, 2012

By Chris Reed

Proposition 30’s fading poll prospects have led to redoubled efforts by Gov. Jerry Brown and his media allies to warn us how we will betray our schoolchildren if we don’t raise sales taxes and increase income taxes on the wealthy on Nov. 6.

Many editorial pages failed to point out the brutal blackmail represented by the Prop. 30 strategy of creating a $5 billion hole in the K-12 education budget. Now those editorial pages are saying the hole can only be fixed by voters joining Brown in pretending that Prop. 30 supporters hold the moral high ground.

But at some point — my guess is 9:30 p.m. next Tuesday — California’s political class is finally going to start thinking about how it will deal with this hole in the budget and stop lecturing voters about what jerks they are for not raising their own taxes to continue funding a broken status quo.

The looming 8 percent cut in teacher pay

Specifically, they will think about the implications of how Legislature and the governor forced school districts to deal with the $5 billion once it went missing: by cutting the school year by 8 percent, from 175 days to 161 days.

Why does that save so many billions? Because it represents an 8 percent cut to by far the biggest item in the state budget: teacher pay. (Think about it: Prop. 98 reserves about 43 percent of revenue for schools; 90 percent or more of school district operating funds goes to compensation, primarily teacher pay.)

At this point, the Prop. 30 strategy no longer holds schoolchildren hostage. It holds teachers hostage.

Does anyone really think the California Teachers Association and its less brash little bro, the California Federation of Teachers, are going to stand for an 8 percent pay cut? When the most powerful political force in the state, by far, faces such a threat, guess what? It will come like a crazed wolverine after every last dollar of revenue available in Sacramento.

The CTA’s coming ‘war against all’

The governor warned of a “war of all against all” over the budget. But if Prop. 30 fails, what we will really see is the war of the CTA against all.

I bet at 1705 Murchison Drive in Burlingame the CTA has its list all ready to send out to pliant Democratic lawmakers the morning of Nov. 7. It will lay out a call to minimize the $5 billion hit to K-12 funding with gimmicks and midyear cuts in a variety of state programs. This is just for starters:

* Starving local governments of promised state funds through accounting tricks and subterfuge.

* Passing a variety of illegal fee hikes and pretending that they don’t violate Proposition 26, the supermajority vote to pass new taxes and fees.

* Reducing the safety net by cutting services for the needy — even if it means taking on the Service Employees International Union.

* Sharply increasing University of California and California State University tuition and limiting the tuition reductions that tens of thousands of students get but which the media never explain — even if it means taking on the faculty unions.

* Reducing the prison population, whether by “realigning” more allegedly low-risk inmates to the local level, speeding up parole, or both — even if it means taking on the prison guards union.

* Most juicily of all, going after the billion-dollars-plus that the California Air Resources Board expects to raise this fiscal year once it begins auctioning off pollution rights later under its AB 32-mandated Cap and Trade program.

AB 32 trickery a certainty

Now I assume that at least someone out there is saying, “Hey, wait a minute, the use of those fees is severely limited. They can only go for pollution relief or to fight global warming.”

But who believes that this will stop the Legislature from doing the CTA’s bidding with the usual accounting scams? This is a state government that would be under permanent siege by the Securities and Exchange Commission were it held to the same standards as companies in the private sector. It is not a government peopled by people with consciences.

So expect the CTA to argue that health programs, forestry programs, water programs and regulatory programs (including the air board itself) have a nexus with pollution and thus could be funded with pollution fees. Voila — the regular general fund dollars these fees replaced could be shifted to K-12.

An inevitable power play

There’s an inevitability to this scenario. When the top priority of the most powerful force in California politics is preserving the pay of veteran teachers, then the lawmakers beholden to this force will do what they’re told.

We have a state Legislature so terrified of the CTA that it ignores President Barack Obama’s calls for education reform, that it is gearing up to kill a 1971 state law requiring student performance be part of teacher evaluations and that even protects classroom sex predators. Hollowing out the rest of state government to keep teacher pay intact won’t cost Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, or any other Dem lawmaker a moment of sleep.

Expect the crusade to begin bright and early Nov. 7.

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