Can the Governor be Believed?

What are we to make of Jerry Brown’s promises that his proposed tax increases in November will benefit our schools? Call me naïve, but I like to give everyone, even politicians, the benefit of the doubt. Still, the Governor’s words and actions leave only the most naïve among us thinking any of that money will end up in the classroom.

The Governor kicked things off last fall by telling everyone who would listen that his tax initiative would benefit kids and classrooms – who wouldn’t like that? But as competing tax measures, one by the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and another by Molly Munger, shined a light on the Governor’s proposal, it became clear that the Governor’s proposed taxes were not to be dedicated exclusively to education as promised. Rather the money would be funneled through the state’s general fund where much of it would be siphoned off to help plug budget shortfalls.

Second, while Prop. 98 indeed requires a substantial portion of the state’s general fund be allocated to education, school districts state-wide are indebted to CalSTRS for teacher pensions in excess of $1 billion. So just how much of any additional monies flowing into our schools will be used for classroom improvements when the CalSTRS wolf is knocking at the door?

Next, and in an effort to strengthen his November tax bid, the Governor joined forces with CFT as the two merged their efforts. The original CFT proposal included an income tax increase on California residents earning over $1 million a year and was thus dubbed the “millionaire’s tax.” The merged effort, which abandoned the original CFT proposal, calls for an across the board quarter-cent sales tax increase plus income tax increases beginning for those earning over $250,000. Still, the Governor continues to use the “millionaire’s tax” label to describe the merged proposal. Labels are often more important than the contents as many voters ignore the fine print. Nevertheless, Brown’s use of a blatantly false characterization of the merged measure is nothing short of dishonest.

But it doesn’t end there. As detailed in earlier posts on this page, four state employee unions with contracts expiring this year agreed with the Governor to one year contract extensions hoping the November taxes will pass and there will be more money available for union contracts. More money heading away from the classroom.

Further, Brown continues to say that his tax proposal will raise $9 billion even though the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says it will only raise $6.8. And we all remember how for months Brown insisted the 2011-2012 budget shortfall was “only” $9 billion even though everyone knew that figure was based on faulty assumptions of additional revenues. Indeed, the shortfall was officially increased to $15.7 billion following the May revise and the LAO says it may be another $2.0 billion more. Further, Brown promotes his proposed tax increases as temporary, but who can forget Brown’s vigorous efforts last fall to “extend” other taxes then expiring.

In spite of all this, the Governor continues to predict all manner of doomsday scenarios for education should his tax initiative fail. But Brown has demonstrated time and again his willingness to sacrifice the truth if he thinks doing so will persuade voters to his point of view. So call me naïve, but Governor, I just don’t believe you anymore.

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