Nov. 2015 Advocate: New ballot initiatives to stabilize California public education financing


CFT President discusses new ballot initiatives to stabilize California public education financing

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of revenue ballot initiatives filed in California which range from extending Proposition 30, to a tobacco tax, to different approaches to commercial property tax reform. California Federation of Teachers (CFT) President Josh Pechthalt recently wrote to local CFT leaders about the union’s role in some of these initiatives.

Pechthalt said that “the CFT is committed to ensuring stable state revenues to protect quality public education and we expect to play a major role in 2016 to ensure that we protect the gains we have made by passing Proposition 30 in 2012.”

The Alliance For A Better California; Extending Proposition 30
CFT is a leader of the Alliance for a Better California, together with public employee unions from across the state working to extend Prop 30.  Pechthalt explained that “It is clear that there is widespread support for extending the tax on high-income earners set to sunset in 2018.  California voters have sent a clear message that this is not the time for a tax cut for the wealthy—and that there remains a commitment to fund public education and keep the momentum of the recovery of the California economy going.” In early September of 2015, a ballot initiative to extend Proposition 30 was filed with the Attorney General and will be eligible for signature gathering later this fall.

This initiative was carefully crafted to garner maximum support. It is expected to qualify as an extension of Prop. 30 and is not a new tax. It will:
– maintain the same tax rate on high-income earners, while making the system more progressive (i.e. by not renewing the sales tax)
– maintain the same distribution of funds; and
– continue to spend resources on education while freeing up General Fund money to allow for increased investments in higher education, healthcare and infrastructure.

Pechthalt emphasized that “This is the initiative that we think is most viable.”

“Make It Fair” and Property Tax Reform
Pechthalt also explained that, “As part of the ‘Make It Fair’ coalition, CFT is committed to reforming the lopsided commercial property tax system in California that allows some of the most profitable corporations in the world to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes, thus costing the state and critical priorities, like quality public education, billions of dollars.”

“The coalition has embarked on an ambitious research project as they look toward the ballot box for meaningful reform.  Our polling has repeatedly shown a solid base of support among voters for these reforms, especially in communities suffering most from the lack of resources that reform would address.  But results from this preliminary research indicate that there is more work to do to educate the public about the crisis and need for a fairer system, and build a large enough majority for meaningful reform. This work will continue.  The coalition is also supporting SCA 5 (Mitchell and Hancock), which continues to work its way through the legislature.  While we do not expect a two-thirds majority to appear, the bill provides important opportunities for alliance building, tax education and publicity.”

Pechthalt added that “Conway Collis, a former member of the Board of Equalization, has submitted an initiative entitled, ‘Property Tax Increase to Fund Anti-Poverty Programs.’  This measure would add a tax surcharge on real property valued above $3 million, and would use the new revenues to fund anti-poverty and early childhood programs. The policy problem with this approach is that it does nothing to address or change the unfair structure of the existing property tax code.”

Moving forward
Referring to the dozens of ballot initiatives that have currently been filed with the Attorney General, Pechthalt said that, “Some will move forward for signature gathering, and a smaller number of them will make it to the ballot.  Our partners on key revenue efforts will poll and research the impact of these additional measures on the 2016 ballot. “

He concluded that, “As we build for 2016, we will keep you updated on these efforts and focus our work on building a grassroots campaign to educate voters on how critical it is to fully fund education in California through the most progressive, winnable proposals.  Our futures depend on it.”