Teachers: More Money for Schools. GOP: Okay

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KQED/John Myers

It wasn't the main narrative of Monday's school funding protests, but chances are it's in just about every reporter's story (mine included): Republicans agree to give educators the money they want for the coming year.

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.

KQED/John Myers

"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:

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • RT

    I think that Brown’s May Revise will be an “all cuts” budget with all the cuts coming out of education. He may think that the prospect of deep cuts in education will motivate the public to call for the tax extensions he wants.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LiberalsToRecallJerryBrown B. Cayenne Bird

    SB151 will give hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to prison guards in increased salaries and wages. It already passed the Senate by one vote, it is now heading to the Assembly. There is also still $7 bil in new prison construction that could be wiped from the budget if Brown would do one simple, courageous thing. Release the 54,000 non-violent inmates who are getting out anyway. Release them right now instead of building $7 billion in prisons and spendng billions more per year of our education and human services dollars to operate them. Please join the campaign, Liberals To Recall Jerry Brown, http://www.facebook.com/LiberalsToRecallJerryBrown
    Remember that Brown was the one who passed the original determinate sentencing laws more responsible for the present fiscal and humanitarian crisis. He took $1.8 mil from prison guards to get elected. He will serve them for as long as we allow him to sit in office. Let’s cut our losses. Brown Out!

  • http://www.kqed.org/weblog/capitalnotes/blog.jsp John Myers

    FYI: I appreciate, B. Cayenne Bird, your interest… but I don’t want to rehash the spirited debate from my posting about the state worker MOUs.

    This thread, folks, needs to focus on education funding… and not veer into long debates over other budget areas. Thanks.

  • Rudy Begga

    How about we cut out all of the waste at the top of the school supervisory pay scales. That’s where all the money goes. Stop by any school and you will see more chiefs in the tee-pee than you will teachers. The massive pay, benefits and pensions that go to these exorbitant supervisors could pay for thousands of more qualified teachers. Cut out all of the illegals that have filled our class rooms over capacity and now you will have more than enough money for education. California’s answer is to keep raising taxes until there is no people to tax. WAKE UP CALIFORNIA! YOU ARE IN BIG TROUBLE!