Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

CTA Demands Fix In Budget It Helped Break

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The California Teachers Assn., the huge teachers' union that is the state's most powerful and sophisticated interest, has a new ad demanding that the legislature take action on temporary taxes to forestall cuts to schools and public safety.

    That message is not outrageous. But CTA is the wrong messenger.

    CTA, as much any institutional group (other than the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.), has shaped the budget process they have today. Its 1988 ballot initiaitve, Prop 98, gives the union effective control over nearly half the budget; and if you control half of something, you control the whole thing. Prop 98 and other measures -- both spending mandates and tax limitations -- have tied the hands of legislators. These are the very legislators that CTA now demands action from.

    Oh, bitter irony.

    CTA can't have it both ways. If it wants to stop persistent cuts to schools and other budget items, it needs to embrace wholesale reform of the state's budget and governing system. And it has to give up Prop 98 and some of its leverage over the system, and restore questions of school funding to democratic politics. But the union, like Gov. Brown and the Democratic establishment, is sitting on the sidelines, thinking it can use TV ads and criticism of the GOP to get the tax extensions it wants.

    This won't work, either as a political or policy matter. Tax extensions won't prevent big cuts to education because the budget system, of which CTA is one author, keeps ratcheting up budget deficits. And Republicans aren't likely to give up the leverage they hold under the 2/3 vote requirement for taxes and for putting measures on the ballot.

    California's budget can't be fixed until both sides -- Democratic interests like CTA, and Republican interests such as the taxpayer groups -- give up their special leverage points and restore democracy to the state budget crisis. With this ad, CTA isn't pushing for a solution to the budget crisis -- it's changing the subject and delaying the systemic change that's needed.