Despite $59.7 million error, key Prop 30 education account gets OK’d in audit

by Matt Fleming | October 6, 2016 5:50 pm

Money Stackof BillsA key provision from a 2012 ballot measure that taxed top incomes to fund education was recently given a clean bill of health by the state controller’s office, just in time for voters to consider a 12-year extension of the program.

The controller’s office in August published an audit of the account that collects tax revenue generated from both a temporary tax on annual incomes of $250,000 or more and a quarter-cent sales tax and then disperses the funds to K-12 school districts, charter schools and community college districts.

With the exception of a $59.7 million accounting error the Department of Finance made when transferring funds (but is set to be corrected in an upcoming adjustment), the program was deemed[1] to have used and accounted for the revenue appropriately.  

Still awake? Here’s some background

The Education Protection Account was created to ensure the money is used as intended — meaning to make it so lawmakers couldn’t raid education funds for other purposes — when voters approved Prop 30 in 2012. The audit was one of several accountability provisions.

The audit noted that the $59.7 million error did not affect funding to schools because of another law (Prop 98), which guarantees a certain level of education funding. The Department of Finance told the Controller’s office the error did not hurt schools because the Prop 98 guarantee was met through other accounts.

The fact that the guarantee was met regardless of the error raises questions about the need for Prop 30. But a spokesman for the Department of Finance said Prop 30 has “provided a direct benefit to schools” since it provided additional revenue streams and increased the amount of the Prop 98 contribution.

And while $59.7 million is a lot of money, it’s only a fraction of how revenue much Prop 30 has generated. Since its inception in 2012, it’s estimated to have generated around $31.2 billion.  

Why is CalWatchdog telling me this?

In April, CalWatchdog discovered[2] the Education Protection Account had not been audited, despite the fact that voters are set to consider a 12-year extension in November (it’s now called Prop 55, and the extension is coming two years early).

Prop 55 would only extend the income tax provision, while the sales tax provision will expire in two years.

Why audit this obscure account and not how the schools are spending the money?

Auditing this account is important because it verifies that lawmakers (or anyone else for that matter) weren’t dipping into Prop 30 funds. The audit could also catch something like a $59.7 million accounting error.

And other audits have been done. There’s actually plenty of audits of the different school districts, charter schools and community college districts located on the controller’s website[3].

Isn’t more education funding a good thing? Seems like a no-brainer.

The Prop 30 and Prop 55 debate has never really been about the need for more education funding. Instead, it has to do with the source of the funding. 

Many experts, including Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget, argue the state is too reliant[4] upon income tax revenue from top earners, mainly because of its volatility.

In fact, nearly half of the state’s revenue comes from the top one percent of earners (approximately 150,000 individual tax filings). Critics of Prop 30 and Prop 55 say these measures only perpetuate the problem.

Also, Prop 30 was billed as a temporary tax. But if it Prop 55 passes, it would extend the program until 2030, which critics say is not “temporary.”

Of course, if voters down Prop 55 in November, the program will expire in 2018. There would certainly be a loss of revenue for schools (and healthcare[5]), but Brown said he’s prepared to proceed either way.  

  1. the program was deemed:
  2. CalWatchdog discovered:
  3. controller’s website:
  4. the state is too reliant:
  5. healthcare:

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