Jerry Brown using kids as bait, again

It’s become a cliché that whenever governments want more money from taxpayers, officials insist the added burden must be borne “for the children.” With 50 years in the game, Gov. Jerry Brown knows that clichés work. So, Thursday he kicked of his campaign for Proposition 30, which would increase state taxes $8.5 billion, at New Technology High School in Sacramento. He was surrounded by students who supposedly would benefit from the extra money.

Gov. Brown addressed objections to the tax increase head on. “This is not about any other issue,” he said. “It’s not about the environment, it’s not about pensions, it’s not about parks. It’s about one simple question: Shall those who’ve been blessed beyond imagination give back 1 or 2 or 3 percent for the next seven years, or shall we take billions out of our schools and colleges to the detriment of the kids standing behind us and the future of our state?”

Mr. Brown referred to the higher state income tax rates, up to 3 percentage points higher, that would be imposed on Californians earning at least $250,000 a year. Prop. 30, beyond boosting the statewide sales tax by a quarter percentage point, would raise California’s top income tax rate to 13.3 percent, the highest in the nation. It’s also dubious that someone earning $250,000 in someplace as expensive as California has been “blessed beyond imagination.”

Still, as the governor suggests, let’s focus on “the kids.”

“In K-12 education, a tax increase will not help those kids unless California dramatically changes how it funds schools,” Lance Izumi told us; he’s an education policy analyst with the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco. “We should backpack school money with each kid, whose parents then could choose which public or private school it goes to.”

Mr. Izumi was referring to voucher programs, an idea advanced for decades by the late Nobel economist Milton Friedman, whose 100th birthday July 31 was celebrated nationally.

“And if we changed the system,” Mr. Izumi continued, “we wouldn’t have to raise taxes.” Competition always reduces cost. Moreover, one alternative to public schools is the popular charter school system, which operates within the existing public-school system but with more independence. An April study by the state Legislative Analyst found that charters get 7 percent less funding than traditional public schools. Why not make all schools charters?

Although Prop. 30 allocates 89 percent of the proceeds of the tax increase to K-12 schools and 11 percent to community colleges, government money is fungible. The new money could enable the Legislature to divert existing education funding to other purposes, such as pensions.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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