Watching the budget debate is like watching a drama unfold before our very eyes. It has all the elements: education is the damsel in distress, the prison system is the evildoer, and the looming doom is a 10% across the board budget cut. The only missing piece to this drama is the white knight.
This past week we got a glimpse of that the white knight. As editors we had the opportunity to attend a round table discussion, in Los Angeles, on “Covering Education in Latino Communities.” Speaking at this round table was State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas and State Senator Gloria Romero.
Senator Thomas was the scheduled speaker. Senator Romero was a surprise visitor. Despite the un-choreographed appearance of both Senators the message was the same. Later that same afternoon, in Chula Vista, State Senator Denise Ducheny and State Assemblywoman Mary Salas delivered the same message.
Senator Thomas addressed the issue of budget cuts and the impact on education. He noted the dismal ranking among states in regards to spending on education, 47th out of 50 states. Senator Thomas noted the prison industry as a great drain on the budget. He implored the writers and editors to not allow the cuts to take place. He failed to mention a solution to the problem, he repeated and emphasized and importance of not cutting education and putting the pressure on Republicans to do the right thing.
Shortly after Senator Thomas spoke State Senator Gloria Romero made a short presentation and lo and behold, it was the same speech as Thomas’. The state was 47th in spending, 10% budget cut cannot to be allowed to happen, we must rally the troops to save education and the prison industry was bad. It felt as we were getting massaged to accept and support what was to come next. Senator Romero suggested that the state would need to raise revenue to maintain the status quo. There it was the white knight; to raise revenue meant an increase in the state tax to save education.
We knew all along a tax hike was lurking in the background, now it had been brought forward and a topic for serious consideration.
That was last week. This week Governor presented a revised budget that leans heavily on selling lottery bonds. But, selling lottery bonds has its own set of problems nor does it fix the shortfall facing schools. It is believed that the school budget will still be $4 billion short. If that effort fails the Governor’s fall back plan is a temporary 1 cent increase in the state sales tax.
The new Speaker of the House, Karen Bass, has already addressed the issue of looking at taxes in a piece penned for the Los Angeles Times: “We have to ask the question of whether a tax structure that was established in the 1930s is sufficient to meet the needs of Californians in 2008.”
The message is being delivered loud and clear that new taxes are on the horizon, and education will be the issue that will motivate the voters to accept this tax increase. No problem there. But we need to do more than just preserve education funding, we need to grow the amount of money spent on education. If the way to do it is to raise taxes, okay, we can live with that, if the new tax revenue goes toward education. That is the rub; there is no guarantee that either the lottery bond money or the tax increase will be devoted to education.
Bond money and/or the funds raised through taxes go into the general fund. Once in the general fund this money can and will be spent on a variety of needs, of which education is one of many.
Before this conversation on new taxes goes any further, based on the need to save education, there needs to be a commitment that those new monies will go toward education. To go forward without this commitment makes a tax hike a tough sell.