Opponents of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's ballot initiative to raise money for schools and other state programs, have tried to convince voters not just that the new tax dollars wouldn't go to schools but that the extra revenue isn't really needed. Nor does the public need to worry about the cuts that state law mandates to schools and higher education if Proposition 30 fails, the critics say.
The dust kicked up by the opposition is obscuring what's really at stake. If Brown's proposition fails, it would leave the state with an $8.5-billion hole in its budget — almost twice as large a gap as the alternative cuts floated by GOP leaders. Under any scenario, schools and other crucial programs would have to take a significant hit.
Brown came into office almost two years ago promising to avoid fiscal gimmickry and bring real structural change to the budget, and he's largely kept that pledge. The Legislature has enacted $23 billion in cuts from state programs, holding general fund spending more than 10% below its 2007-08 peak. Those cuts — to social programs, criminal justice, redevelopment, schools and higher education, among other priorities — have largely fallen on the poor and others outside of the middle-class mainstream. But there's only so much the state can take out of safety-net programs; in fact, the courts have forced lawmakers to reverse some cuts because they went further than the law allowed.