When Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature fashioned the 2012-13 budget, their evident goal was to persuade voters to finance it by enacting new sales and incomes taxes at the Nov. 6 election.
Toward that end, they decreed that should the tax measure be rejected by voters, automatic triggers would cut spending by $6 billion, all but a fraction of it from education.
Ever since, Brown and other advocates have beseeched voters to pass Proposition 30 to save schools from those cutbacks, including a sharp reduction in the school year.
It is, of course, a form of political extortion, telling voters that if they fail to do what Brown and legislators want, schools will suffer based on the poll-tested assumption that education is the single most popular thing that government does.
Had they threatened, instead, to cut welfare or close prisons, the political impact would have been much less because those are much less popular than schools.
So will this ploy work, overcoming voters' historic reluctance to raise taxes?
Brown has been campaigning vigorously, using the school cut warning. However, two new polls indicate that if anything, support has been drifting downward. Approval is now no better than a 50-50 bet strongly influenced, it appears, by voters' sour view of the state's economy and its politicians.
If it doesn't work, would Brown, et al., allow the school cuts to take effect, or would they pull back, especially since they'd have the influential "education coalition," including the California Teachers Association, pushing them to reconsider?
Brown has said that there would be no relief from school cuts because there's no other money available, and the budget he signed seems to bear that out.
He's counting on $8.5 billion from Proposition 30 for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 budgets, and has only enacted $6 billion in trigger cuts should the measure fail, leaving a big gap that state officials say would have to be filled with even more spending reductions beyond schools.
The gap could even grow billions of dollars wider. The budget, for example, assumes that California will get about $1.5 billion from a surge in Facebook's huge stock offering, but its shares have dropped by nearly 40 percent. And other revenues are already falling short of projections.
Another factor is the $6 billion that Brown and legislators have promised counties to pay for "realignment" of criminal justice and social services.
Proposition 30 contains a constitutional guarantee of that payment. If it fails, counties (and their unions) would demand that politicians still honor the commitment, rather than shift funds to schools.
Thus, educators would not be the only stakeholders pressuring Sacramento should new taxes fail.
It would be a battle royal.