Of course, few may have heard that rare moment of apparent agreement, especially as protesters focused on more taxes for the wealthy and corporations and GOP pols either renewed their calls for business-friendly regulations or criticized the teachers for taking a day off from work.
The much talked about 'State of Emergency' events kicked off this morning in Sacramento, with hundreds of teachers, parents, and school employees gathering for a prayer rally and then marching off to the state Capitol to either lobby or get arrested.
(An overview of the day is in my Tuesday morning story for The California Report at the end of this posting.)
But as I found in the early afternoon, none of the education advocates in a statehouse hallway recognized one of the key figures they would ostensibly be pressuring: Assembly GOP Leader Connie Conway. The Tulare legislator, after wrapping up a Q&A with reporters just off the Assembly floor, walked unnoticed into her third floor office.
Late last week, after word that state tax revenues appear to be around $2.5 billion ahead of Governor Jerry Brown's projections, Conway seized the moment to both make the news more understandable and to get out in front of this week's big we-need-additional-taxes-for-schools PR push."You know, schools should be first," Conway said today in explaining her call for K-12 education to get almost all of the unexpected tax revenue windfall.
"It's an opportunity for us to live within our means and do the right thing, and still protect schools," she said.
This afternoon, Republicans in the state Senate jumped on Assemblymember Conway's bandwagon. And the numbers do provide some nice symmetry: Governor Brown's January budget (we'll get a revised plan next week) proclaims to hold K-12 schools pretty much harmless by extending (some would say resurrecting) the 2009-2010 personal income tax surcharge. That extra cash, using the complicated Proposition 98 funding formulas, would send about $2 billion to schools.
So it's a simple swap, right? Maybe. The dollars seem equal enough on the macro level, but there's much more down deep in the weeds that would have to be resolved. For starters, Brown's $2 billion is part of a universal plan that erases the entire deficit, one where the remaining income tax dollars go to paying for other state services. His plan also -- if approved by the Legislature and/or voters in its original form -- would last for five years.
The GOP idea, as budget experts say, is technically an "over-appropriation" of Prop 98. Otherwise, the law guarantees schools only about 40% of that $2.5 billion, or about $1 billion. An over-appropriation may sound like no big deal, but keep in mind that Prop 98 generally promises schools the amount they received the year before. In Brown's view, his income tax surcharge would float all boats in the general fund, not just K-12, for five years; in the GOP (admittedly roughly sketched) plan, this year's mini-bonanza would trigger the same higher K-12 spending in 2012-13 as Brown, but could come at the expense of other state programs. In other words, both plans give K-12 schools the same size slice... but the GOP plan cuts it out of a smaller overall pie -- both this year and next, and maybe even longer.
As you might imagine, that's not an accepted view in GOP circles. Assembly GOP Leader Conway rejected the concept when I asked about it. "If you can grow the economy, if we can get people a job, we can get people paying into the system, then we believe that money will be there," she said.
Conway also signaled out public safety and law enforcement spending for protection from budget cuts, and said that later this week her caucus will unveil "more of our ideas" on an overall budget fix (not an actual GOP budget plan, as many buzzed over the last couple of weeks).
"We believe it's solvable without the drastic cuts that everyone else is talking about," she said.
Of course, it's those "drastic cuts" that education groups are spending their entire week talking about -- cuts they say would be unavoidable should the Guv's tax extensions not come to pass. Key to their point is a much bandied about number -- $4.6 billion -- in potential cuts to K-12. That's based on a February letter of possible solutions offered by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office (which actually pegged it at $4.8 billion), and would require legislators and the governor to formally suspend the Prop 98 constitutional guarantee.
Republicans say that's not going to happen. "We're not going to vote to suspend 98," Conway told reporters.
Of course, it would have been interesting to see the GOP leader discuss all of that with the throngs of education advocates today -- many holding glossy photo pages with legislator mug shots. Alas, a half dozen of the folks walked by Ms. Conway as she and an aide strolled back into her Capitol office.
Tuesday's radio story can be heard below: