Bolstered by strong support in Los Angeles County, voters approved a tax-hike measure that will generate $6 billion in revenue and avert catastrophic cuts to California's public schools and universities. | » More Election News
Proposition 30, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, won with 54 percent – a result that moved over the 50 percent mark only after votes from Los Angeles County began pouring in about 11 p.m. Tuesday. In Los Angeles County, the sales- and income-tax hike passed with 60 percent.
Voters gave just 28 percent to a rival tax-hike measure, Proposition 38, which would have provided $10 billion a year for public schools by raising the income tax rate for most Californians.
Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy said early today that he was incredibly relieved by the measure's passage, crediting voters with being willing to invest in the future of public education.
"Voters were very aware what the cuts would have meant to our schools," Deasy said in a phone interview. "They said, 'Enough is enough.'"
Proposition 30 will raise the sales tax a quarter-percent for the next four years and also will increase the income tax rate on incomes over $250,000 for the next seven years. The money will plug a $6 billion hole in this year's California budget, and also will allow the state to begin restoring per-pupil funding that had been withheld from school districts during the recession.
Had the measure failed, public schools and community colleges would have had to cut $5.4 billion from this year's budget, and the University of California and Cal State systems would have lost $250 million each.
To cope with the cuts, school districts were widely expected to lop three weeks off their already-shortened school year, from 175 to just 160 days. Community colleges would have had to slash thousands of courses, while tuition hikes were likely at the universities.
"No new cuts from the state means we can manage our own situation," Deasy said. "With the money borrowed from us replaced, we can finally begin to turn the corner."
Deasy said the passage of Prop. 30 also means the district may be able to cancel some of the 10 furlough days facing teachers and other district employees as a way to balance this year's $6 billion budget. Moving forward, some of the thousands of lost jobs may be restored.
LAUSD board members also looked forward to the chance to review the budget without a sense of trepidation. "While the victory wasn't a landslide, the fact that voters approved a tax increase during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is very significant, and the board and Dr. Deasy should take that message to heart," said Steve Zimmer, whose district stretches from the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood and the Westside.
"Funding from Prop. 30 won't turn everything around and is not a magic pill, but it is the beginning of the end of the decimation of our system," he continued. "It is now the responsibility of this board and our administration to have a strategic plan for reinvesting, re-resourcing and restabilizing our schools."
Board member Tamar Galatzan cautioned, however, that revenue coming to the districts this year will restore state funding that is due them, but will not leave schools flush with cash.
"Now that we don't have a giant ax hanging over our head, we can get a real look at our budget for the remaining school year and know what we're looking at," said Galatzan, who represents the west San Fernando Valley. "This doesn't mean new money for the district. It means that the cuts we sustained are not going to get any worse." Still, the board will be reviewing the district's financial plan with an eye toward restoring personnel and programs that were slashed during the state's financial crisis.
As recent polls showed support for Proposition 30 dropping below the 50 percent needed for passage, Los Angeles Unified officials began working on contingency plans for how they would cut $255 million from the district's budget.
"Student transportation would have ended, schools would have been consolidated, programs would have been cut. The list goes on and on," Deasy said. "All of the transformative work we've done to get student achievement to this level -- all of this would have been unraveled. This way, will be doubling down on our work."
In a victory speech late Tuesday in a hotel ballroom in Sacramento, Brown applauded voters for deciding to pour money into California's schools, which rank 47th for per-pupil spending.
"I know a lot of people had some doubts, had some questions -- can we really go to the people and ask them for a tax?" Brown said. "Well here we are, we have a vote of the people.
"I think the only place in America where a state actually said, 'Let's raise our taxes for our kids, for our schools, for our California dream."
State Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, who had campaigned hard for Prop. 30 in the weeks leading up to the election, expressed satisfaction that districts will not have to shorten their instructional calendars this year or next. "Passage of Proposition 30 means parents and students across the state can breathe a collective sigh of relief, knowing that our schools will have the resources to stay open for the remainder of the year," he said in a statement. "The people of California have given our schools a well-earned vote of confidence. We intend to make the most of it by continuing our work to give all children the world-class education they deserve."
Proposition 30 had the support of of teachers and labor unions, which poured tens of millions of dollars into getting the measure passed.
Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, noted that Prop. 30 will restore constitutionally guaranteed funding levels to students for the first time since 2008.
"We recognize that Proposition 30 will not fix all our schools' fiscal problems, but it is a tremendous step that is expected to cancel teacher furlough days and bring back the 180-day school year for LAUSD. If voters had rejected Prop. 30," he said, "$6 billion in cuts to K-12 education would have kicked in statewide."
Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, said the vote signaled that residents are willing to invest in public education.
"They want to see funding restored to our schools and colleges. They want to stop the tuition hikes and class size increases. They want to see students have music, and art, and libraries and access to counselors and nurses. They want to see our schools flourish and our students succeed."
Proposition 30 lagged for much of the night, creating worry for local educators as voters in the Central Valley and much of Southern California rejected the prospect of higher taxes. The gap narrowed as San Francisco County came in with 77 percent approval, with Los Angeles County pushing the tally over the 50 percent mark just before midnight.
Voters also rejected rival Proposition 38, which would have provided $10 billion a year for public schools by raising the income tax rate for most Californians. It was backed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, who donated $44 million to try and get the measure passed.
It garnered only 28 percent of the vote statewide and 32 percent in Los Angeles County.
Munger released a statement Tuesday night, vowing to continue her efforts to reform the state's education system.
"In the fight for Proposition 38, a powerful coalition has begun coming together and a strong movement has been formed," said Munger, a Pasasdena civil rights attorney. "As we continue this fight, we can and will build on all the good work that has been done.
"Transformational change takes time and we are committed to staying the course until our state truly does tackle this school-funding crisis."