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CTA leaders huddle in emergency meeting

The high command of the California Teachers Association held an emergency meeting Monday to craft new political strategies that may include a ballot initiative and a freeze on spending for Democrats. The action followed the passage of the tardy 2008-09 state budget that provided public schools with some $3 billion less than had been sought.

Capitol sources said the gathering of the CTA’s directors and top executive staff had been hastily called to consider the union’s position on Proposition 11, the November ballot initiative that would create an independent commission to draw the district boundaries of legislative and Board of Equalization Districts, and other actions in the wake of the passage of this week’s budget, which was universally criticized.

The union has opted out of participating in Opportunity PAC, which has funneled millions into competitive Democratic races over the last several election cycles. An e-mail went out from CTA brass to other Opportunity PAC members informing them of CTA’s decision not to participate in the election alliance this cycle.

A decision to support Proposition 11 seems unlikely, but will ultimately be decided by CTA’s executive counsel next weekend.
The proposal has significant support from rank-and-file Republicans and government-reform groups, while the state Democratic Party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other ranking Democrats have been opposed. Thus far, the powerful CTA has been neutral.
But Capitol sources said the CTA, angered at the budget supported by Democrats, is now considering support for Proposition 11. The group also is considering a referendum on the March ballot that would block corporate tax cuts and shift the money to schools and a freeze on CTA’s candidate spending for the November election, which could dry up a reliable source of Democrats’ campaign funds and have a major impact on candidates’ coffers.

Democrats have talked about trying to place a measure on the next ballot – thought to be a special election in June 2009 – to change the budget vote requirement from two-thirds to a simple majority. In 2004, CTA led the charge to pass a similar change in the state law, but it was easily rejected by voters. Leaders from CTA and other major labor groups say it is unlikely labor would invest millions to try to pass a change in the vote requirement next year, citing a lack of time to craft and qualify a measure for a June 2009 ballot.
The CTA is not the only labor group reeling in the wake of the budget’s passage. The Service Employees International and the California Labor Federation also are displeased.

“The Legislature and the governor have sold out the future of this state in exchange for a house of cards that will collapse in a matter of months. Without real revenue, the deal perpetuates the fiction that we don’t have to pay for the services we want,” said Courtni Pugh, executive director of SEIU’s state council, in a statement last week. “SEIU members will continue to fight for real solutions. We plan to fix our chronic deficit and the problems that cause it. Because of this irresponsible deal, our job just got a lot bigger.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger has made clear that he intends to use the 81-day budget standoff to make the case for redistricting reform.
“We have a problem here with our system. It’s a systemic problem that compromise is being punished and getting stuck in your ideological corners is being rewarded,” Schwarzenegger said earlier. “And this is why I think redistricting is a very important component here to get that done so we don’t have those problems.”

The CTA did not discuss the agenda of the closed-door meeting.

“It’s an emergency or special meeting that was called in the last two days because of the way the budget was handled, or mishandled. We don’t think this budget is in the best interests of California, and it’s certainly not in the best interests of public schools,” said CTA’s Sandra Jackson.

“All of our board members, and all of our executives and all our managers will be at the meeting. Everything is on the table,” she added.

Whatever political action the executive committee takes will be sent to the 800-member State Council, the statewide policy that sets CTA policy. The State Council is scheduled to meet next week.

Other labor groups, many of whom are angry at the details of the budget package, also said they are considering freezing spending for legislative candidates in November.


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