Tobacco giants Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have enlisted the help of a Long Beach public school teacher to persuade voters to reject a $2 cigarette tax increase on the November ballot, Proposition 56.
The industry’s commercial, which began airing Sunday across the state, stars high school math and music teacher Davina Keiser. As she sets tests and pencils on empty desks in a classroom, Keiser says she was “astounded” to learn that Proposition 56 was written to undermine the state’s school funding guarantee. She says not one penny from the measure will go to improving kids’ schools, which she calls “bad math.”
Good schools are important to my students and California. That’s why voters passed a law to ensure schools get 43 percent of any new tax revenue. I was astounded to learn that Prop. 56 was written intentionally to undermine that guarantee. Prop. 56 raises $1.4 billion a year in new taxes and gives most of that money to wealthy special interests – like insurance companies. But not one penny goes to improve our kids’ schools. That’s just bad math.
(The words “cheats schools of $600 million a year” appear on the screen.)
Similar to an earlier ad funded by the tobacco companies, the new commercial contains inaccurate claims about school funding and omits information to mislead voters.
It is a stretch to say Proposition 56 “cheats schools of $600 million a year.” Nothing in the measure reduces school funding from current levels. If the measure passes, the education budget doesn’t decrease.
The measure was written to exempt the new tobacco excise tax revenue from the state’s voter-approved school funding guarantee known as Proposition 98. Passed in 1988, Proposition 98 gives schools a leg up in budgeting over many other programs, requiring a minimum level of funding for K-12 schools and community colleges and guaranteeing that a percentage of state revenue be directed to schools.
While Keiser says she was “astounded” to learn that the measure works around Proposition 98, she shouldn’t be. It isn’t unusual. The last two increases in tobacco taxes approved by voters shielded the money from the Proposition 98 education funding guarantee.
This time around, Proposition 56 directs most of the tobacco tax revenue increase to Medi-Cal to raise reimbursement rates, which critics have long blamed for the state’s health care conundrum. Doctors say the financial reimbursements they receive for providing care to California’s most impoverished patients are too low to maintain a practice. The “wealthy special interests” the ad refers to are doctors, clinics, hospitals, managed care plans and any other health-related group that get Medi-Cal payments because they provide services to eligible patients.
It’s also wrong to say “not one penny” of the funding goes to improve schools. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that up to $20 million of the new tax revenue would to go the Department of Education for school programs to prevent the use of tobacco among young people.
PoliGRAPH is The Bee’s political fact checker, rating campaign advertisements and candidate claims as True, Iffy or False.