School advocates look to extend tax hike on wealthy

School advocates look to extend tax hike on wealthy

(Calif.) A voter initiative aimed at extending temporary personal income tax hikes to fund schools was cleared for circulation last week, allowing backers to seek the 585,407 signatures needed to qualify the measure for next November’s ballot.

Titled “Tax Extension to Fund Education,” Initiative 15-0065 would extend by 12 years temporary personal income tax increases enacted in 2012 on single filers earning over $250,000; over $500,000 for joint filers, and over $340,000 for heads of household.

If approved, the tax would raise between $5 billion and $11 billion annually from 2019 through 2030 for K-12 schools and California Community Colleges, according to state finance officials.

“Temporarily extending these critical revenues will help keep our state budget balanced, and prevent devastating cuts to programs affecting students, seniors, working families and healthcare,” said Gale Kaufman, spokeswoman for the initiative’s backers, Alliance for A Better California, in a statement.

“California continues to rank 46th in per student funding,” Kaufman’s statement read. “This year’s budget is a strong step towards restoring the billions in cuts since 2008, but schools have lost more than $50 billion in funding that will never be repaid. We need to ensure that the funds that our schools receive stay stable to avoid repeating the massive cuts of the recent past.”

The potential for further cuts to education was stymied in 2012 by the passage of Proposition 30, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown as the only way to stabilize the eroding state budget and bring in more funding for schools. A quarter-cent sales tax increase created by the measure expires at the end of 2016, and personal income tax increases on residents with annual incomes over $250,000 are set to expire in 2018.

The measure has generated between $6 billion and $7 billion annually, with about half going to K-12 schools and community colleges.

While the initiative from the Alliance for A Better California – a coalition that includes the California Teachers Association – calls for its extension of the tax hikes to expire, a second proposal would make them permanent.

That initiative, backed by a group of health and youth advocates, was cleared for signature gathering last week as well.

Initiative 15-0070, titled “Tax to fund Education, Healthcare and Child Development,” would use the revenues for K-12 schools and Medi-Cal, the state-funded healthcare system for the poor.

In addition to extending tax increases on couples earning at least $580,000 annually, the measure would impose even higher income tax rates for so-called “super-earner” couples making more than $2 million a year.

According to the groups leading this effort – the California Hospital Association, the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and Common Sense Kids Action – half of the estimated $10 billion in annual revenues would go to K-14 education. Forty percent would go to the state’s Medi-Cal program, and the rest to preschool and early childhood development programs. The measure also calls for a “rainy day” budget reserve similar to that created by last year’s Proposition 2.

Neither of the two measures calls for extending Proposition 30’s sales tax increase.

Recent polling by the Public Policy Institute of California showed likely voters split evenly on the question of extending temporary taxes and heavily against making them permanent.

The initiatives also face getting lost in a sea of measures given that more than 100 proposals are vying to be on the November ballot. Three, including a $9 billion K-12 school facilities bond, have already qualified; 58 have been cleared for signature gathering, and 40 are waiting to be cleared for circulation by the Attorney General’s office. Eight petitions have failed to qualify.

Adding a new wrinkle to this year’s initiative process is a set of rules passed last year aimed at de-cluttering the California ballot by allowing the Legislature to conduct hearings on the various proposals before they go to a public vote. Lawmakers and initiative sponsors, who have until June 30 to pull a measure off the ballot, could decide to address the issue through legislation.