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An Issue Vital to State's Future

December 20, 1987

Bill Honig, state superintendent of public instruction, says that he has more than enough signatures to put a proposal to change a limit on state spending on next year's June ballot. Now all he needs is more than enough votes--something that Californians should cheerfully provide.

The spending limit was imposed by the passage of Proposition 4 in 1979. It prevents Sacramento from increasing the state budget by more than the percentage increase in the federal consumer price index in any budget year. What escaped the notice of people who voted for it is that the price index is designed to measure the cost of living for families--not the price of highways, hospital services, public education or other public services whose cost often rises faster than that of a loaf of bread.

It took just eight years for the artificial ceiling to produce the inevitable. Public education needed $900 million more than it got in the current budget to keep up the momentum of school reform. Gov. George Deukmejian insisted--wrongly, we think--that he had no alternative to giving back to taxpayers the $1.1 billion by which Sacramento's income exceeded the spending limit. Public education lost money; the reforms, momentum.

The so-called taxpayer revolt that began in 1978 when Proposition 13 cut property taxes by $7 billion left most elected officials petrified of talking, even in whispers, about correcting moves that prevent California from making much-needed investments in its future.

Not Honig. He started a campaign for his own ballot proposition that reached its first milestone last week when he announced that he had gathered more than 1 million signatures asking for a place on next year's June ballot.

We opposed Proposition 4, and still think that it should be wiped out of the California Constitution. Honig, needing more money for education and uncertain whether voters would go that far, settled for a change in the formula for setting limits on spending. His proposal would substitute annual increases in personal income for the price index as the measure of how much the state budget could grow each year. Because Honig's is the only game in town, we support it wholeheartedly.

Honig has been a leading force for more teachers, more pay for them and more attention to the kind of education that teaches youngsters to think. His enthusiasm and single-mindedness about school reform has led him into more than one brush with the governor, whose own enthusiasm is for budgets smaller than what the state needs to stay on the cutting edge of America's future. Honig and Deukmejian are currently in a state of armistice. They should remain in that state at least long enough to avoid diverting attention with mere politics from an issue that is as important to California's future as the amending of Proposition 4.

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