Proposition 30 tax hike is working and must be kept in place

Gov. Jerry Brown thanks supporters for their work in passing Proposition 30 during an election night party in Sacramento in November 2012.
Gov. Jerry Brown thanks supporters for their work in passing Proposition 30 during an election night party in Sacramento in November 2012. Associated Press file

Proposition 30 is the best thing to happen to public education and the economy in California in a generation. Two years after voters adopted the tax measure, funding for public education has rebounded and the state economy and budget have improved.

Proposition 30 asked California’s top income earners to pay a bit more in personal income tax to restore funding to education after years of devastating cuts. It is imperative that the state Legislature and the governor act to make it permanent.

The anti-tax forces that attempted to defeat Proposition 30 have been proved wrong. Their “sky is falling” predictions that wealthy Californians would flee the state never materialized, and likely won’t. Affluent residents of Beverly Hills, Malibu, Marin County and other wealthy enclaves haven’t packed up and moved to low-tax states such as Nevada.

To date, Prop. 30 has generated more than $13.1 billion for public education. School districts across the state have rehired teachers and support personnel. Many have reduced class sizes and restored enrichment programs. The state is providing additional money to schools where students have the greatest needs. In cities as diverse as Daly City and Salinas, counselors now meet regularly with students, language specialists have been rehired, custodians have been added and schools have added security personnel.

Community colleges have brought back classes canceled during the Great Recession, and until now the California State University and University of California systems have frozen tuition and fees after years of increases.

The additional revenue from the measure has also helped prime the pump for the economy. Jobs restored in the public sector have fueled consumer confidence and helped create jobs in the private sector. In just the last year, California has added nearly 300,000 jobs, cutting unemployment by 2.5 percentage points.

Gov. Jerry Brown pitched Proposition 30 as a temporary tax. But his legacy will be better served by making permanent a tax that benefits millions of Californians, rather than sticking to a pledge that will result in a massive drop in state revenue if Prop. 30 is allowed to sunset in 2018.

Perhaps more importantly, Proposition 30 does not belong to the governor. It belongs to the millions of voters who wanted to see funding restored to education and were weary of budget cuts to California’s most needy communities. In case the governor and Legislature haven’t noticed, their approval ratings are up because they are no longer making draconian cuts. There is no clamor from the public to end Proposition 30.

The governor talks about “living within our means.” Maintaining a progressive income tax to pay for public education and other essential services acts as a buffer against cyclical recessions and is more consistent with a compassionate vision for government in a democratic society.

Proposition 30 stopped the bleeding, but it has only brought us part way back to adequate school funding. California’s public schools still lag far behind the national average in per-pupil spending and class size. We rank last in the ratio of school nurses, librarians and mental health professionals and have only just begun to restore the jobs of custodians, office staff and others who help maintain clean and safe schools.

Contrary to the anti-tax and anti-government rhetoric popular in some quarters, Proposition 30 is working, and has provided a road map for other states facing similar cuts to education and essential social services. It is sound economic and social policy, and making it permanent leaves a lasting legacy of which we can be proud.

Joshua Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers, representing more than 120,000 faculty and classified workers in public and private schools and colleges.