The issue: Is Governor Brown's tax initiative the best solution for funding our schools?
It should be understood that Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal, if passed by the voters Nov. 6, would increase state income and sales taxes for limited time periods.
The income taxes would increase 3 percent on households with incomes of more than $1 million; an increase of 2 percent on households earning between $600,000 and $1 million; and an increase of 1 percent on households earning from $500,000 to $600,000.
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There will be no income tax increase for households with annual income less than half-a-million dollars. The income tax increases would expire in seven years. The state sales tax increase would increase a quarter of a cent and would expire in four years.
If passed, the state is expected to generate an additional $9 billion annually. The measure is designed to restore funding for pre-K through 12th-grade education and community colleges. The initiative would prevent massive budget cuts and help balance the state budget without raising income taxes on those who cannot afford to pay more without incurring financial hardship.
A reasonable person would agree that a household with annual earnings of at least half-a-million dollars would not be making a painful sacrifice because of the proposed income tax increase. It should be noted that the initiative ensures that the new revenue for education would be spent on schools at the local level without creating more bureaucracy at the state level.
If Gov. Brown’s tax initiative is not passed, the current budget deficit of $15.7 billion will result in more cuts. It will have an immediate and tragic impact on education and on the future of the state.
One only needs to look at the facts of the situation to realize that our state education system, once enviable, is at the brink of collapse.
During the past five years, the state has cut $50 million from San Luis Obispo County’s school budgets. Paso Robles and San Miguel school districts had to cut their school year short and consequently, the students receive education for a lesser period of time during the school year. If the governor’s school funding initiative is not passed, knowledgeable sources predict that some districts will be forced to cut three weeks from the school year and K-12 schools in San Luis Obispo county will lose $15 million.
What have been the ramifications of the past budget cuts on our schools?
Larger class sizes, fewer teachers, insufficient money for supplies, lack of equipment, inability to provide students with basic technological resources such as computers and the Internet, fewer course offerings, especially electives, and fewer support staff such as counselors and speech therapists. In some schools, kindergarten through third-grade class size has grown from 20 to 30 students.
What can be expected if the voters reject the governor’s initiative?
Some schools will have to shut down completely, while the surviving schools will have to shorten their school year; core course offerings, e.g., science and mathematics, must be cut. The most severe cuts would be made in support staff positions — counselors, librarians, maintenance personnel, school nurses, etc. Class sizes will become much larger and, of course, fewer extracurricular activities.
No lesser person than one of our founding fathers, George Washington, stated in 1788, “In a country like this, if there cannot be money found to answer the common purposes of education, it is evident that there is something amiss in the ruling political power.”
The best predictor of a nation’s, a state’s or a community’s future is the level of emphasis it places on educating its young. They are the future physicians, professors, teachers, librarians, nurses, peace officers, bankers, scientists, technicians. They determine a community’s economic well-being because they are the future taxpayers. Let us remember this on Nov. 6.
Zaf Iqbal is past associate dean and professor emeritus of accounting of Cal Poly's Orfalea College of Business. He volunteers with local nonprofit groups including Habitat for Humanity, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and the Children's Resource Network. He is president of the San Luis Obispo Democratic Club.