Reality Check: Prop 30 ads offer healthy dose of political spin

4:07 PM, Oct 8, 2012   |    comments
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There are two almost universally popular things in California politics: schools, and proposals to keep a leash on Sacramento lawmakers.

That probably explains the approach by supporters of Proposition 30, one of two temporary tax increase initiatives on the November 6 ballot.  And yet, the initiative is not all about schools... nor does it truly rein in politicians.

Hence the reason the first ads in support and opposition merit a glance via our News10 Reality Check.

"I support Prop 30 because it means no more school cuts, with strict accountability," says state Controller John Chiang in the Yes on 30 ad now getting extensive TV airtime across the state.  "Sacramento politicians," he says, "can't touch the money."

There's some truth and some spin there, our analysis shows:

No More School Cuts? It depends on how this is measured.  Prop 30, which was written into this year's state budget agreement, is designed to stave off deep cuts to K-12 schools.  And it's true that the budget says if Prop 30 fails, some $6 billion in education cuts are supposed to automatically kick in.  But there's nothing in the actual language of Prop 30 to prevent future reductions in school funding, which is what the ad strongly implies.

Accountability: This is one of the favorite promises of ballot measure campaigns, but nothing in Prop 30 creates some new ramifications that would hold state lawmakers responsible for their actions -- the real definition, it would seem, of "accountability."  Prop 30 does mention new audits, but the initiative's language also points out that such audits by the state controller are permissible under already existing state law.

Can't Touch This:  You can thank Vice President Al Gore for the most memorable image of taxpayer dollars protected from the scheming hands of politicians: the "lockbox." Prop 30's ad uses a drawing of a locked safe, but it's the same idea.  On this front, the ad is accurate, but there's more to the story.  Again, it's worth pointing out the actual language of the initiative.  Yes, the new tax dollars are promised to schools and protected from the state budget.  But Prop 30's own verbiage says that this means that other "state money is freed up to help balance the budget." Translation: lawmakers would ostensibly have greater freedom to spend money on non-school programs if Prop 30 passes.

The political spin in the first batch of Yes on 30 ads have left the initiative's opponents licking their chops; the No on 30's first TV ad decries the "smoke and mirrors" of the initiative's political campaign.

That's probably an overstatement.  But Prop 30 opponents really outdo themselves in rehashing an old talking point: that the initiative will give schools no new cash at all.

"The former executive director of the California Board of Education says Prop 30 provides no guarantee of new money for schools," says the ad's narrator.

Unless one parses the comment to focus on whether there's a literal "guarantee" in the measure, this assertion is misleading.

A portion of every tax dollar generated by Prop 30 will, under its explicit language, raise the existing constitutional guarantee for school funding, 1988's Proposition 98. That would definitely mean some new money for California schools, though probably not a lot in relation to the overall education budget.


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