Teachers and Taxes: Beyond the Ballot Question

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It has to be frustrating.

Organized labor in California, specifically the California Teachers Association, spent a fortune in the last election. The money was well worth it. Every statewide candidate they backed won.

The California legislature continues to be dominated by labor supported Democrats. They pitched in big for Jerry Brown against Meg Whitman in the campaign for governor and won by a landslide. They also won support for a ballot measure which requires just a majority vote for passage of a state budget.

But they still are a few votes short of a super majority in the State Senate and Assembly. As a result, there are about four Republicans they need to pick off in order to ask voters for a five year extension of the 2009 tax hikes to income, sales and vehicle license fees.

The CTA is now running radio ads throughout the state bemoaning the crisis facing education if the tax hikes don’t pass. Classes will get bigger because districts will be required to lay off more teachers (the ads don’t mention that because of the union’s seniority system the youngest teachers will be fired first since they also make less money more of them will need to go in order to achieve the same budget savings).

One parent told me her student even came home with a school issued pamphlet asking parents to call the so called “GOP 5," a group of Republican state Senators who are negotiating with the governor over the ballot issue.

But getting the tax question on the ballot will be only half the battle.

Increasingly, public education in California is being viewed as an industry that is more inclined to serve the interests of the workers than that of the students. At a time when the documentary “Waiting for Superman” placed the national spotlight on teachers unions as an obstacle to reform these same unions will be asking for more money. Any effort at also placing on the ballot reforms to tenure, the seniority system or the brief two year probationary period for “permanent status” has been rejected out of hand.

The state may be at a crossroads, but the public has heard that before. Many, I suspect, are tired of  the constant argument that all that is needed is more revenue to fix education. They don’t believe it.

Getting tax hikes on the ballot may turn out to be the easy part.

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