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Schools yet to get business backing for tax extension

Even as Republican lawmakers insist they won't vote to place the tax extension sought by Gov. Jerry Brown on a special election ballot this June, over 150 California school districts across the state have passed resolutions backing such a measure.

But so far local school boards from Eureka to Desert Sands appear not to have linked their support for the tax measure to persuading business interests – including local chambers of commerce – to back it as well. 

That, says pollster Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, will be crucial if public school officials and supporters hope to persuade a majority of voters to back the tax measure which would be essential to avoid billions of dollars in additional education cutbacks.   

"If you are in the education community, you have to get business organizations on board, otherwise I don't think it (the tax extension) will have much of a chance," DiCamillo said. 

DiCamillo said a key to victory in a June special election, should it occur, will be to reduce the margin of Republican voter opposition, and to aim for getting 40 percent Republican voter support. That is more likely to happen if business interests get behind it. 

In the past, he said, Republican voters have typically rejected tax increases by a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 margin. “If you only get 25 or 30 percent support (for the tax extension), I don’t see how that works in a special election," DiCamillo said. 

Business support could also help change the minds of recalcitrant GOP lawmakers to support the measure. A recent PPIC poll indicated that even a majority of Republicans opposed balancing the budget by cutting K-12 spending. But so far business groups have stayed on the sidelines and seem decidedly cool to the whole idea, apparently not yet buying the argument that without the tax revenues local schools are likely to take a huge hit.  

One person who has recognized the key role of the business community is the governor himself. Two weeks ago he went to Los Angeles, for the first time since he became governor, to get the support of the 1600-member Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and – by extension – other local chambers. 

"Right now, it is not clear how we will get to the promised land, but we will get there, and you can lead the way, and you can show the state chamber (the California Chamber of Commerce) how to get there," he said in a passionate talk to the chamber. "We will get there together, not as separate entities, but as Californians first."

His efforts seem to have paid off, at least as far as his immediate audience is concerned. Last Friday, the LA Chamber became the first to declare its support for a tax extension. In a press release, chamber President Gary Toebben called Brown's $12 billion plan "fiscally responsible." 

But its impact is far from clear. The LA Chamber of Commerce is generally viewed as among the most sympathetic in the state regarding raising tax revenues. (It supported several tax proposals by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which were later defeated by voters.)

Pollster DiCamillo said that if the LA chamber is "an outlier," it won't help tilt business support in favor of a tax extension. For that to happen, he said, "you'd want to see more than just one chamber supporting it, you'd have to see a host of them."

Many more school boards are endorsing the June election plan each week, according to the California School Boards Association, which is organizing the pro-tax extension drive. The resolution approved by local school boards describes Brown's proposal as a "balanced approach between revenue and new cuts "to solving the state's deficit problem."

A sign of just how far public school advocates have to go to get business support can be seen in San Francisco, with the state's heaviest concentration of progressive Democrats, and where the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has yet to take a position on the tax extension issue.  

Jim Lazarus, the chamber's senior vice president for public policy, said that his organization would want to wait to see what measure actually appeared on the ballot before taking a position on it. 

He said his chamber's support would be conditional on whether the measure included other reforms sought by business groups. "I think our board would be supportive of a ballot measure, if the package is tied to real budgetary reform, pension reform, and regulatory reform that will improve the state's job development climate."

But he declined to specify exactly what kinds of reforms his chamber would want to see, saying that would be up to the Legislature to decide. "We are a local chamber taking positions on local issues," he said. 

Brittany McKannay, a spokesperson for the California School Boards Association, said that until now most of the focus of school lobbying has been on trying to convince local legislators to provide the two-thirds vote needed to get the measure on the ballot.  

Once it is known whether a measure will actually be on the ballot, local school boards will become much more active. "Come March, we will ramp up our efforts," she said. 

If those efforts lead to a potentially potent coalition between public school advocates and local business groups – on most matters big backers of their area schools –that could change the dynamics of the entire special election effort. 

 

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

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