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Will Prop 30 Be the Last Ransom Taking?

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    File photo of a student.

    Polls suggest that a narrow but distinct majority of Californians will vote to approve Prop 30. That's not surprising. The temporary tax measure to provide money for the budget (which includes schools), is a ransom note as it's tied to trigger cuts in the state budget. If Prop 30 fails, education takes a $6 billion hit.

    Most people pay ransom -- particularly when there could be real pain, as in this case.

    But that shouldn't be the end of the debate about Prop 30. Because, in ransom cases, you have to ask: if I pay the ransom now, will this be over? Or am I going to have my loved ones -- or cherished programs, in this context -- taken hostage again?

    When it comes to the California budget, the answer to that question is: yes.

    If Prop 30 passes, it's highly likely that similar ballot-initiatives-as-ransom-notes will show up on future ballots. Indeed, the ballot initiative tied to trigger cut seems likely to have a long, fruitful life if Prop 30 shows the genre to be a success.

    That's for two reasons. The political reason is that victory inspires imitation. The other is a policy and budget reason.

    California's broken budget system remains essentially unchanged by Prop 30, and that broken system is always adding to the state's budget problems, ratcheting up certain kinds of spending and ratcheting down revenues. The bottom line: California's leaders will soon need more revenues because of the budget ratchet. Prop 30 will be the precedent for getting more revenues.

    If Prop 30 wins, it's likely that future ransom notes will take education funding hostage, just as Prop 30 has. Schools can expect to be in the crosshairs anytime the governor and the majority party need more revenues.

    So if you're voting for Prop 30 to protect the schools (from today's trigger cuts), you should know this. By voting to protect the schools, you're all but guaranteeing that, in the future, schools will be threatened, via trigger cuts.

    The only real protection in California is building a different budget system and constitution.

    Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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