Prop 30 in depth: higher taxes to fund schools

Prop 30 in depth: higher taxes to fund schools
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Supporters and opponents are lining up on Proposition 30, an initiative backed by Gov. Jerry Brown to bring in funds for education and safety services.

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Supporters say it's an investment in the future of California, opponents call it a huge tax hike that fails to reform the state budget process.

Prop 30 would increase taxes on those earning over $250,000 for seven years, and increase sales tax by one-quarter cent for four years. Analysts say it'll bring in an average of $6 billion annually over the next few years. "In 2012-13, planned spending reductions, primarily to education programs, would not occur," the ballot summary says.

Those possible funding reductions worry the Bakersfield organization "Faith in Action." They held a rally to pump up support for Prop 30. Volunteer Lisa Melendez wants the measure to pass, she's a mother with several kids in school.

"If Prop 30 doesn't pass, I fear that they'll be in over-crowded crowded classrooms," Melendez told Eyewitness News. "They won't get the attention that they need."

At the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers' Association, president Michelle Johnson says schools have already been hit hard, and in the Bakersfield City School District that's resulted in a cut of $5 million over the last few years.

"If Prop 30 doesn't pass, we're going to lose an additional $12 million," she warns. "Which is $17 million, and our schools can't handle that type of cut right now."

But, the "No on Prop 30" website disagrees. They say the measure a "$50 billion tax hike," they call it a "flawed initiative."

"Why are you raising taxes? Why, when we have more money in the state budget than ever, are we cutting education?" asks Reason Foundation vice president Adrian Moore. "Where are the priorities in Sacramento?" He says California is spending the most money it's ever spent in its history.

He also argues it's a bad time to raise taxes, saying that will hurt the state's economic climate.

"I think everybody understands, when you raise taxes that doesn't encourage job growth," Moore said. "And job growth is really our number-one problem in California right now." He also says the proposed tax increases will hit "several million small business owners in California."

In addition to the income tax hike for wealthier Californians, the measure would also increase the sales tax everyone. But supporters of Prop 30 say that's necessary even in these tough economic times.

"In this situation, I think it is," Faith in Action volunteer Christina Sandoval said. "Because it's only a small share, it's only a quarter of a cent."

Supporters also assert there are safeguards in Prop 30 which assure the money will go to schools. "These funds will be subject to an independent audit every year to ensure they are spent only for schools and public safety," the proposition reads.

The ballot summary states the money can't go to administrative costs, but sends the funds to local school boards to decide in open meetings how it will be spent. It says 89 percent of the temporary tax funds will go to K-12 schools, and 11 percent to community colleges.

Some of the funds would also help fund "safety services realigned from state to local government," the ballot summary says. The text of Prop 30 states "cities and counties are guaranteed ongoing funding for public safety programs such as local police and child protective services."

That's something supporters also agree with.

If Prop 30 is defeated, then spending cuts will be triggered. "The state's 2012-13 budget plan -- approved by the Legislature and the Governor in June 2012 -- assumes the passage of this measure," the summary reads. "The budget, however, also includes a backup plan that requires spending reductions (known as 'trigger cuts') in the event that voters reject this measure."

Supporter say that's what they worry about, but opponents dispute that would happen.

The Reason Foundation's Adrian Moore says trigger cuts have been threatened before, but lawmakers didn't pull funds.

"The budget is just a plan, the Legislature actually makes decisions all throughout the year about what to spend and what not to spend," Moore said. "And if we don't approve Prop 30 they can cut spending anywhere in the budget they want. They don't have to cut education."

But, supporters urge passage of Prop 30. "This money will help us to support what we've already lost," says Michelle Johnson from BETA. "And to be able to get that money back. We can't handle another cut."