California voters on Nov. 6 will be asked a fundamental question about the future of public education from kindergarten to college: Should our schools receive adequate funding as the state recovers from the economic downturn? We think they'll answer "yes" and support the tax increase in Proposition 30.
The $6 billion that will be generated by Prop. 30 is vital to education. The state budget approved earlier this year includes $6 billion in cuts that would be imposed if Prop. 30 fails. The biggest cuts, $5.4 billion, would fall on public schools, forcing some local officials to shorten the school year by weeks. Public universities, including Fresno State, would endure another $500 million cut, and raise tuition again.
The prospects for passage of Gov. Jerry Brown's Prop. 30 has been damaged by the supporters of Proposition 38, which is pushed by wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger. That measure would raise income taxes by $10 billion primarily to fund schools. Unfortunately, the competing measures could cause Californians to vote against both measures. That would be disastrous. Vote "yes" on Prop. 30 and vote "no" on Prop. 38. Munger's initiative does nothing to help public safety, a component of Prop. 30.
When Brown took office, California faced a $25 billion budget deficit, more than a fourth of the general fund, and debt of more than $30 billion.
The problems date to the Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger tenures. They overspent, plunged the state deeper into debt and adopted budget reforms that were flimsy at best.
Prop. 30 would raise income taxes on single filers earning $250,000 or more, and joint filers earning $500,000, generating $5 billion a year. The tax would last for seven years. For joint filers earning $1 million or more, the marginal tax rate would rise by a hefty three percentage points to 13.3%. The new rates would affect about 1% of California's income tax filers. Their income is volatile, which leads to the cycle of occasional booms and, lately, perennial busts. In addition to the income tax hike, Prop. 30 would raise state sales taxes for four years by one-quarter of 1%, generating $1 billion a year.
California's fiscal house remains shaky. Prop. 30 offers a way for the state to start climbing out of its pit. It's not ideal. But it is the best available option. At the midpoint in his term, Brown deserves a vote of confidence.