It may be an issue campaign, but voters might have trouble distinguishing two November tax initiatives from a candidate skirmish. Wealthy Pasadena lawyer Molly Munger is the author of one ballot measure that would raise taxes for public schools. Gov. Jerry Brown is behind the other.
The differences between the two surfaced last week when Munger spoke about her initiative to the influential forum Town Hall Los Angeles.
The talk took place in an aging, wood-paneled boardroom on the 51st floor of a downtown L.A. high rise. Four decades ago, it was home to the opulent headquarters of ARCO, the oil company. Like the largely vacant space, Molly Munger contends, public education in California is a shadow of its former self.
“Now we’re 47th in the country in our per-pupil funding and you go on to these campuses and you see 50 kids in a class trying to learn algebra. You see 40 first graders trying to learn to read,” she said.
Munger calls her ballot measure “Our Children, Our Future.” It would raise state income taxes on a sliding scale for 12 years to support public schools. About 60 percent of the $10 billion in revenue would go to all public schools on a per-pupil basis. Nearly a third would help pay off education bond debt, and 10 percent would go toward early childhood education. Munger says state lawmakers wouldn’t be able to use the money for other state needs.
“This money will bypass Sacramento totally, it will go to the local education communities and it be earmarked for particular schools and so every schools and every child will benefit,” she said.
Munger said her polling indicates strong support among most voters. She senses less support among decision makers. People like Crowell, Weedon money manager Kevin McCarthy.
“I’m not highly confident that the people in education need more money,” he said as he picked up a box lunch and mingled with other attendees.
McCarthy said schools are a mess but he’s not sure that the underlying premise of Munger’s initiative is the answer.
“It’s got nothing to do with taxing us. I’m certainly willing to pay taxes if I’m confident it’s going to accomplish something that needs accomplishing,” he said.
The talk began and Munger stood and spoke in a tone of a lawyer addressing a jury in opening arguments. She projected graphs about shrinking state money for schools and the way a 1 percent income tax increase wouldn’t overload taxpayers.
“We are one of only three states that has cut our education funding more than 20 percent since the downturn began,” she said.
Her advisors said before the talk that she’s scaling back these kinds of presentations because the campaign’s becoming a contest between her and Governor Brown.
“Now I’m going to do some slides on how this compares to the governor’s proposal,” she continued.
Munger spent the last 10 minutes of her talk trying to persuade this group that her measure is better than Governor Brown’s.
Brown’s proposal would hike sales taxes by a quarter cent and income taxes for people earning over a quarter million dollars annually. Most, but not all, of the $8.5 million expected to be raised would go to schools.
On this same day Munger went to court to stop the governor from placing his initiative in a higher, more visible place than hers on the November ballot.
After the talk, money manager Kevin McCarthy says the talk didn’t help him make up his mind about which measure to support.
“I wasn’t anticipating at all the issue of the governor’s initiative versus 'Our Children, Our Future' initiative," McCarthy says. "I’m farther away from thinking about this constructively than I was before I came.”
Public school parent Rene Rodman sat opposite McCarthy. She said she got a lot out of the presentation.
“Understanding the two ballot initiatives, the differences, how the funds are raised, the different types of taxes, a lot of the details, and the pros and cons of both,” she said.
Munger’s largest supporter is the California Parent Teachers Association. The state’s largest teachers union is backing the governor’s proposal. Munger and the governor have four months left to convince voters of their initiatives to turn around the funding crisis in California public schools.