Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No on 88

California Proposition 88: Education Funding. Real Property Parcel Tax. (Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute)

Prop 88 would write into the state constitution a $50 per parcel property tax and direct the revenue towards some worthy education projects. However, it is opposed by the PTA. If you can't convince the PTA to support a measure to help the schools, there's got to be something deeply wrong with your proposal.

Read more...First, some general gripes: there is something deeply wrong with the fundamental structure of the California Constitution: it is a haphazard collection of ballot measures, mostly written by special-interest groups. It gets overly specific about most issues, particularly in terms of the budget process. The Legislature only controls a small fraction of the General Fund, because most of it has been earmarked by a succession of ballot measures. Unfortunately, the deplorable state of our Constitution is a symptom of the chronic lack of political leadership: the power vacuum created by the Legislature's inaction on a diverse array of issues leaves the door wide open to the abuse of process that our ballot measures have become. That said, I have a simple standard when it comes to voting on a constitutional amendment: if it isn't absolutely perfect, I am honor-bound to vote no. Prop 88 fails that test easily, but I'm not even sure that the underlying idea is a good one.

California's public school system is a shambles for one very specific reason: Proposition 13 from 1978 hamstrung our local governments, especially our schools, starving them for funding, leaving our classes to get larger and larger, our textbooks more out of date, our buildings more dilapidated, and our teachers more overworked and underpaid. Before Prop 13, California's school system was the envy of the nation and of the world. California's excellent schools made possible the economic engine of Silicon Valley, and served as a magnet for businesses of all types. Today, California is competing with states like Mississippi for the lowest rungs of the education ladder.

The proponents of Prop 88 say, "Two ultra-conservative special-interest groups are opposing this measure, just like they've opposed other efforts to improve public education in our state." What about the Parents-Teachers Association? That ain't what I call no ultra-conservative special-interest group.

California needs to increase funding for public education significantly. The way I propose to do it is by repealing Prop 13, because Prop 13 was the wrong answer to a real problem back in 1978, and it is the cause of many more problems in the intervening 28 years. We shouldn't have to choose between starving our schools or taxing our retirees out of their own homes. There has to be a third path. In the mean time, put the tax measures before the public and make the case for why they are necessary. Don't waste creative energy on finding new ways to circumvent Prop 13 when what it needs is a total overhaul.

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