News

Proposition 82 is not the answer

Oddly enough, those of us involved in the campaign to defeat Proposition 82
are relieved that Rob Reiner’s resignation from First Five will help bring
an end to the distraction associated with the controversy. It’s time to
bring some much-needed focus on the many flaws of the measure itself.

While Reiner-gate was dominating the headlines, our campaign continued to
work diligently to educate constituencies throughout the state regarding the
many policy flaws of this initiative. Our impressive coalition of groups and
individuals underscores that the more voters learn about Proposition 82, the
less they like it.

We’ve known since the beginning that Proposition 82 is eminently defeatable.
Once they get beyond the feel-good rhetoric of “preschool for all” and focus
on the facts, this measure hardly aligns with the priorities of voters.
Voters understand that this is not a question about whether preschool is
good or bad. Rather, it’s a question about whether Proposition 82 is the
right approach.

At a time when California has many other pressing needs, like failing K-12
schools, a chronic budget deficit, skyrocketing home prices, and roads,
levees, health care, and public-safety services in need of funding and
reform, now is not the time to create a massive new preschool bureaucracy at
a cost of $2.4 billion annually, just to increase preschool enrollment by a
mere 5 percent.

Even those who have no problem taxing higher earners see Proposition 82 as a
wasteful new program and a misdirection of limited resources.
Approximately 65 percent of four year olds already attend preschool,
according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). Proposition
82 supporters admit this measure will only increase enrollment to 70
percent.

The LAO also says this program will spend as much as $8,000 per student for
a part-time, three-hour-per-day program. That’s almost as much as we
currently spend for full-day instruction for K-12 students. And Proposition
82 imposes the same one-size-fits-all, top-down approach to the new
preschool bureaucracy that currently is plaguing our K-12 system.

Further, there is no guarantee that the program won’t cost more than
anticipated. When was the last time a government-run program was managed
“under” budget? If the program costs more, Proposition 82 gives the
Legislature the authority to impose a “parent tax” on all participating
families.

Many of us support efforts to expand preschool opportunities, but believe we
must target those efforts to help children most in need. On this front,
Proposition 82 fails completely.

According to an analysis by former Legislative Analyst William Hamm, only
8.4 percent of funding from the new program will go to enroll “high risk”
kids in preschool who otherwise wouldn’t have gone. This, despite the fact
that all of the academic evidence–including a study by the RAND Corp.
frequently cited by Proposition 82 proponents–shows that lower-income,
minority children benefit most from preschool.

But rather than focus on those high-needs children in order to close
achievement gaps, Proposition 82’s “universal” approach actually could
expand achievement gaps by perpetuating the failures of our K-12
system–where the best teachers, facilities and resources go to more affluent
communities.

In studying Proposition 82, Hamm also found the measure would significantly
erode General Fund revenues by more than $4 billion in the first five years
alone. That’s because rather than just absorb an 18 percent tax increase,
the targeted taxpayers are likely to change their investment behavior to
reduce taxable income. This includes completely legal steps like changing
from taxable stocks to tax-free bonds or deferring compensation to a later
date.

These aren’t doomsday predictions. Hamm predicts a moderate 2 to 5 percent
reduction in reportable income. But because California’s finances are so
reliant on this class of earner, even that small reduction will drain the
state’s General Fund to the tune of more than $1 billion each and every year
by 2011.

Proposition 82 can best be summed up as good intentions wrapped in horrible
policy. That’s why state leaders like Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata
and Senator Tom Torlakson, both former educators, withdrew their
endorsements of Proposition 82, and also is why they were joined by former
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, who called for a no vote in June.
We’re anxious to take our case to the voters. When we do, we’re confident
they’ll see beyond the false promises of Proposition 82, and defeat this
measure soundly at the polls.


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