The debate over Prop 30, Gov. Brown's temporary tax measure, has focused on what would or not happen if the ballot initiative loses. Brown and other Prop 30 backers promise there would be $6 billion in trigger cuts that would devastate schools and higher education.
That may or may not be true. But the debate over the scenarios in the event of a Prop 30 loss has taken attention away from a just-as-important question: What would happen if Prop 30 wins?
In some ways, such a victory would be damaging to some of the programs that a Prop 30 loss would hurt. But the damage could be more long-term.
The good news from Prop 30 is that the state budget would have a few billion more dollars for the next four to seven years -- the length that the temporary taxes would be in effect.
But the bad news is that this wouldn't be all that much money. And that fact would put the lie to claims that Prop 30 would give schools a big boost or fix the state budget. In fact, it could well be that schools get cut and higher education tuition goes up even after the passage of Prop 30, and it's all but certain that the state will still face a significant and growing budget deficit.
And that difference -- between the pro-Prop 30 rhetorc we're hearing now and the continued schools cuts and budget deficits that will be with us even after Prop 30's passage -- could create a huge credibility problem for Prop 30's backers. And that credibility problem, in turn, will make it harder to raise taxes and make reforms that would benefit the schools in the future. After all, voters could say, we raised taxes to save the schools and budget -- and neither happened.
Long-term, then, the damage to schools, higher education and the budget could conceivably be bigger with Prop 30's victory than with Prop 30's defeat.
All this makes Prop 30 a difficult choice -- between possible bad scenarios. Schools and the budget could use the temporary cushion of Prop 30 (the credit ratings of school districts could use the protection), even if it proves to be meager, and triggers cuts could well prove devastating (if they're not reversed by the legislature and go into effect with a failure of Prop 30). But schools and the budget could suffer long-term from a measure that passes but doesn't make things better.