Editorial: Unlikely allies align against Prop. 88

It is not every day you will find The Examiner lined up with the California PTA and Federation of Teachers, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the League of Women Voters, the state Democratic and Republican Parties, the Chamber of Commerce, and the editorial boards of The Los Angeles Times, The San Jose Mercury News and The Sacramento Bee.

To a virtually unheard-of degree, business, labor, teachers, politicians and taxpayer advocates are on record opposing Proposition 88, which would impose a permanent $50 parcel tax on most California property owners for school funding. It would raise an estimated $470 million annually in support of K-12 class size reduction, textbooks and instructional materials, school safety and crime prevention, and facility construction.

Although the measure appears at first glance to be benign, so many things are wrong-headed about Prop. 88 that it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps the most ominous side effect is that it creates an entirely new category of California taxation — the statewide parcel tax to fund specific causes. Up until now, parcel tax proposals have been reserved for local jurisdictions that presumably have a closer understanding of community priorities and are more subject to local voter control.

If Prop. 88 passes and is upheld in court, it would be the end-run around Proposition 13 property-tax restrictions that revenue-hungry interests have lusted after for three decades. It would open the door for endless state parcel taxes on the ballot every November, beseeching taxpayer cash for every special interest.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the competing onslaught of state parcel tax proposals would make it harder for school districts to pass local parcel taxes funding things their communities really want. This distorting process is already in effect now, as voter confusion about Prop. 88 could lessen the chances for passing Proposition 1D, the Legislature and governor’s $10.4 billion school construction bond initiative that The Examiner endorses.

Most of the other serious flaws in Prop. 88 can be grouped around this principle: It actually doesn’t do much for California schools. Although $470 million appears a considerable sum of money, it is less than half of what the California Lottery gives to schools each year. And probably not too many Californians still believe the Lottery is making a major difference in paying for schools.

Prop. 88 would provide $27 per student for hiring teachers. The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that only about 1 percent of California schools would be eligible for the proposition’s facilities construction aid. Most details of the proposition’s funding allotments would need to be clarified by future legislation, which could be changed by lawmakers in every session.

Believe it or not, if space permitted, we could point out much more that’s bad about this well-intentioned but grossly misguided ballot initiative. No way on Prop. 88.

Part of The San Francisco Examiner's 2006 election coverage.editorialsOpinion

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