The California School Boards Association (CSBA) and proponents of the “Full and Fair Funding” proposal – a $15 billion annual tax increase for school funding – announced last week that they were pulling the proposal from the November 2020 ballot.
The reason? CSBA said publicly that its polling showed voters were not keen on embracing the policy wish list pushed by liberal interests for the November 2020 ballot that I previously wrote about. This includes CSBA’s $15 billion tax increase measure, and another $11 billion annual tax increase proposal to gut Prop. 13 and impose a split roll property tax on commercial property.
There was a real fear that one or both measures would be voted down if they were decided on the same ballot.
CSBA CEO and Executive Director Vernon Billy announced in a press statement that “to avoid that outcome, we will move our Full and Fair Funding measure to the November 2022 ballot and concentrate our efforts on working with the Legislature and the Governor to increase school funding.”
But why wave the white flag on the CSBA measure rather than the split roll initiative?
After all, the liberal groups pushing their holiday wish lists are relying on likely record Democratic turnout in the November 2020 election for victory. Liberal turnout surely won’t be as favorable in a lower-turnout midterm election in 2022.
And the most recent polling from the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California showed that the CSBA initiative stood the best chance of passage, generating 56 percent support from likely voters in a November poll.
Compare that to the split roll measure receiving just 46 percent support from likely voters in the PPIC poll (with 45 percent opposed). Most polling experts will tell you that a ballot campaign starting out with under 50 percent support faces long odds of passage.
The reason they pulled the plug is California’s teacher unions.
As EdSource’s John Fensterwald wrote in October, Full and Fair Funding “sponsors moved ahead (with their measure) without the support of an organization critical to the initiative’s success: the 310,000-member California Teachers Association.”
“The CTA Is already a major donor for the (split roll) tax proposal, whose backers have been organizing for more than a year and have locked in key supporters.”
Fensterwald wrote in September that “the CTA committed $30 million to pass the last two state tax increases, Proposition 30 in 2012 and Proposition 55 in 2016. Without that level of support, the school boards association and other backers could struggle to find the $5 million or so to put the initiative on the ballot and then to pass it.”
This is not the first time that two major education tax increase measures were poised to be decided on the same general election ballot. Back in 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown and CTA supported Proposition 30, which was a so-called extension of temporary taxes for education. Meanwhile, attorney Molly Munger spent $44 million to quality and support a competing $10 billion education tax increase measure in Proposition 38. CTA opposed Proposition 38. It was rejected by voters by a wide margin, while Proposition 30 was approved.
The initiative had other problems, too. A recent fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office noted that “in response to the measure’s tax increase, some taxpayers probably would reduce their income in California to avoid paying more taxes . . . (which) would reduce existing (Personal Income Tax) and corporation tax revenue for the state General Fund by as much as few billion dollars per year.”
But in pushing back its plans for the Full and Fair Funding initiative, CSBA was just bowing to political reality. The proposal would never win without the full, active support of CTA – especially if they were counting on teacher unions to provide the bulk of campaign funding. And they would fare even worse in a battle with CTA over competing ballot measures.
However, it comes on the heels of Los Angeles voters rejecting a parcel tax increase for education in June. Writing on this, my colleague Lance Izumi wrote, “while teacher unions are still the most powerful special interest in California, it turns out that there is still one group in the state that can stop their special-interest agenda – the people.”
All of this news, of course, is good for taxpayers. And the split roll campaign has not had a strong start, with proponents forced to scrap the initial proposal it spent millions to qualify and instead collect signatures on an alternative plan that fared better in polling.
The PPIC poll underscores that the left’s attempt to gut Prop. 13 with a split roll property tax faces an uphill climb, even in what will surely be a favorable political climate for Democrats next November.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.