Tax-hike proposals: All stick, no carrot

In the past day or so, there have been several reports about the flood of tax-hike measures likely to be on the November 2012 ballot. The Contra Costa Times offers the best overview. All the stories note the confidence of the backers of these measures, despite the consistent failure of similar measures in recent years.

The biggest obstacle?

A crowded ballot “presents a challenge to the sponsors of the ballot measures,” said Jack Pitney, a political-science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. “They’ll have to make their measures stand out and not suffer collateral damage from other measures that voters don’t like.”

Sure, a crowded ballot makes the tax hikes a tougher sell. But I think the biggest obstacle is that almost all of the plans I’ve seen are all stick and no carrot — proposals to raise taxes without imposing reforms in tandem. As such, they amount to an assertion that there’s nothing wrong with the status quo except that it’s underfunded.

I don’t believe that, and I don’t think most Californians do. Here’s the worst example:

One measure, introduced Wednesday by civil rights attorney and investor Molly Munger, would raise $10 billion that would go directly to K-12 schools and not be used for teachers’ salary hikes — by increasing income taxes on all but the poor, though the heaviest burden would fall on the wealthy. …

 Munger, the daughter of wealthy investor Charles Munger and founder of the civil rights organization the Advancement Project, said she is convinced that voters are willing to be taxed to revitalize schools. And she said she has no intention of deferring to Brown.

“We hope there’s only one proposal and that it’s ours,” she said. “We’re ready to march forward with what we think is an excellent proposal. Unless and until we get information that we’re wrong about what voters want to do, we’ll proceed.”

If Munger thinks adding money to the school system without fundamental changes advances “civil rights,” she should give Gloria Romero a call. Romero certainly supports more funding for schools, but she thinks the “civil rights” battle in K-12 pivots on policy, not money:

Romero says low-income black and Latino students too often receive a poor education in California due to poor teaching. Before she left the Legislature last year, she championed dramatic reforms that angered her natural ally, the California Teachers Association — particularly the “Parent Trigger,” a law that gives parents the power to take over chronically failing schools by petition.

What’s also a groaner about the Munger proposal is the proviso that none of the money raised would go to teacher salary hikes. Is Munger aware that in most districts, 90 percent or more of the budget is for compensation? That most of that compensation is for teachers? That most of that compensation is locked in by collective bargaining that provides for automatic raises based on seniority and passing meaningless graduate courses?

Yeah, sure, none of that $10 billion would go to teacher salary hikes.

For about the trillionth time in the 21 years I’ve lived in California, I observe that anyone who thinks higher education spending is tantamount to “social justice” isn’t paying very close attention. Education spending has soared on an inflation-adjusted rate since the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report. Has school performance improved? Marginally at best. Have policies that favor and cushion veteran teachers given way to policies that favor struggling schools? Nope.

Molly Munger, get a clue.

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