California Budget Stall: Democrats Want More Education Spending Mandates

Democrats are calling for a new state law that would mandate that the state give schools $11 billion in the future, if Democrats agree to short-term cuts in education. The Democrats are also calling for permanent changes to Proposition 98 that would give state legislators even less discretion over education budgets.

As the Los Angeles Times reports:

Democrats are pushing for the budget package to include changes in state law that would assure education a repayment of roughly $11 billion and also would create new, permanent protections for schools against losing money in future downturns. Administration officials say the governor is willing to sign only a bill that would repay the $11 billion but does not make any permanent changes to funding formulas for the future.

California voters resoundly rejected a future education spending mandate in May 2009. Proposition 1B would have mandated an additional $9.3 billion in education spending be “paid back” to schools beginning in 2011. The majority of voters in almost every county in the state rejected this education funding mandate. Yet, Democrats are demanding that $11 billion in future education spending be codified into state law anyway, before signing off on a budget.

Any kind of future education spending mandate will continue to exacerbate California’s budget in at least two ways. First, it continues the trend of ballot-box budgeting that voters rejected in May, by giving legislators and the Governor limited discretion over future budgets. Second, it continues an unsustainable education budget that is not supported by state revenue. Since state revenue has fallen, education obligations have also fallen. However, by mandating an extra $11 billion, Democrats would ensure that the minimum guarantee for education was above what is legally required by Proposition 98.

In fact, Governor Schwarzenegger’s administration’s interpretation of the state constitution is that the state is NOT obligated to “pay back” the education funds at all. The bottom line is that in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, state revenue has fallen so low that for the first time in 20 years, Test 1 has kicked in that only requires the legislature to actually give schools 40 percent of state revenue. This test makes no mention of requiring education money to be “paid back” if education funding is lower than in previous years.

In addition, to mandating $11 billion in the future for education spending, the Democrats want this “gap” in Proposition 98 to be fixed. In other words, they want education funding to be constitutionally mandated to be paid back even under Test 1. They want this to become law before they are willing to sign the budget.

Democrats want to make this change without having to go back to voters and get Proposition 98 altered through the initiative process. Judging by voters reaction to proposition 1B, there is no guarantee that voters would approve even more legislative mandates for education spending.

This is the crux of the budget stall: Does the legislature owe schools $11 billion in the future; should this be codified in state statute; and should education ever be limited to 40 percent of state revenues which is the constitutional mandate of proposition 98?

Democrats want a law that will forever change the future of education budgeting in California and make it even more unmanageable.