By Marisa Lagos and Wyatt Buchanan
In speeches and ads supporting Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown has largely focused on the initiative’s effect on public school and
university funding. He says little, however, about Prop. 30′s significant impacts on public safety and health care.
In addition to raising about $6 billion in taxes annually for seven years, Prop. 30 would amend the California Constitution to permanently set aside funding for Brown’s prison realignment program.
That program, which began in October 2011, has shifted the responsibility — and costs — for incarcerating and supervising tens of thousands of nonviolent offenders from the state to county governments. Prop. 30 would guarantee that county governments continue to receive funding from the state for their extra expenses.
And while California continues to lead the country on the implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the stability of the state’s budget is a key factor in the success of the effort. The failure of Prop. 30 would reduce state spending by billions annually, restraining California’s ability to invest in medical care.
Yet the governor has largely pushed aside those aspects of the ballot measure as he has barnstormed the state in recent weeks. At a campaign event in San Francisco last week, Brown mentioned the public safety angle only twice and never mentioned health care, while repeatedly invoking the cuts to schools and universities that would take effect if Prop. 30 fails.
‘Keep it simple’
Asked why he doesn’t talk about everything else riding on Prop. 30, he responded: “Keep it simple.”
University of Southern California political science Professor Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said that tactic — to focus on schools which “everybody cares about” — was “exactly right.”
“You don’t want to overload voters with complexities — when voters are in doubt, they tend to vote no.” she said. “You can criticize the governor, but not for any lack of understanding of the dynamics in this state. … He knows what he’s doing in terms of message.”
That simple message — that Prop. 30′s failure would have devastating cuts to public education — was, from the beginning, by design.
The state budget adopted by the Legislature and signed by Brown in June counted on the tax measure passing. Failure would trigger automatic spending cuts of $6 billion on Jan. 1. Those cuts would translate into tuition increases in the California State University system and likely the University of California system. They would have the greatest impact on K-12 public schools and community colleges, enabling public school districts to cut nearly a month from the school year.
Brown has repeatedly defended the plan, saying Californians must be willing to pay for the services the state provides or be prepared to lose them.
Funds for realignment
County governments, meanwhile, are counting on the realignment funding guarantee in Prop. 30, which ensures that future lawmakers and governors cannot touch the approximately $6 billion a year that the state is already giving to counties to run jails, probation departments and rehabilitation services.
If Prop. 30 were to fail, said Marin County Sheriff Bob Doyle, “in the long term, it will be devastating.” The philosophy behind the shift, he said, is that counties can do a better job rehabilitating offenders, instead of simply rotating them in and out of prison – if they have the resources to provide the programs necessary. Marin County is getting $4.5 million a year, he said.
“If that funding were to go away, it would basically strip us of money to provide programs, jail supervision, probation supervision, and we would be in the same situation that the state was in – meaning they weren’t doing a very good job,” he said. “All we would be able to do is find people and put them back into custody. Recidivism would be sky high, and we wouldn’t be able to program people, to offer them job training, housing – it would all go away.”
In his comments at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club on Thursday, Brown did note that one of his election pledges was to “strive to return decision making closer to the cities, the counties, the school districts, believing … that the institutions closest to the problem should have the appropriate responsibility to deal with it.”
Later, while answering questions, the governor again invoked that pledge, saying without Prop. 30, the state funding currently being sent to counties to deal with the change in policy could be taken away by future policymakers.
Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan, president of the California State Association of Counties, acknowledged that the ballot measure’s failure could also put counties and school districts in the “untenable” position of competing for limited state funds.
“We don’t need to squabble with each other,” he said. “When I talk to people, I talk about the whole thing. I see it as holistic – for schools to prosper, counties have to prosper.”
He and Doyle said they make a point of talking about both the school funding and law enforcement funding when they are discussing the ballot measure in their own community — and that voters are receptive.
“Personally, I wish (the governor) stressed the public safety aspect more,” Doyle said. “Every time I go someplace, I mention how important it is.”
Impact on Medi-Cal
For health care, the biggest cost to the state probably will be the expansion of the Medi-Cal program. The federal government is picking up the cost for much of the implementation of the law through 2016, but the state will have to pay 50 percent of the costs of people currently eligible for the program but who are not yet enrolled.
The price tag for that is not yet clear, but will be included in next year’s budget, said Diana Dooley, secretary of the Health and Human Services Agency.
“This is a bit like pulling the thread on the sweater. The whole state government has to work in order for health care reform to be successful,” Dooley said.
Anthony Wright, executive director of the organization Health Access California that advocates for state health programs, said if Prop. 30 fails there probably would be fewer benefits for people who get their health care from the state. That could mean no coverage for things like prescription drugs and prosthetic limbs, he said.
“It creates problems,” Wright said.
Opponents of Prop. 30 have criticized the governor for his focus on the education funding portion of the measure, saying he isn’t being straight with voters.
“The problem is they’re lying in their ads, saying the money is guaranteed for the classroom when in actuality it is a general fund tax increase to go to all the wonderful or not wonderful things the general fund pays for,” said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the No on 30 campaign and former press secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Prop. 30 spokesman Dan Newman dismissed McLear’s accusation. “If anything, we’re guilty of being overly modest in our ads,” he said.