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Gov. Flip Flop, Queen Meg & Proposition 13

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POSTED September 20, 2010 1:48 a.m.
Say what you want about Jerry Brown, but when Proposition 13 passed in 1978 he did what he was supposed to do as governor - he did his best to implement it.

I confess I wasn’t a big fan of Brown at the time who was known as everything from Gov. Flip-Flop to Gov. Moonbeam. Brown stridently opposed Prop. 13 but when it passed he was committed to making it work. He didn’t whine nor did he challenge it in the courts.

That earned him the moniker of Gov. Flip Flop. But that is what a governor is supposed to do - set aside his political beliefs and enforce the will of the people and make things work given the perimeters that they dictated.

Meg Whitman is erring a bit in her sound bite campaign to define Jerry Brown. First of all, those old enough to remember his first go around in the governor’s office don’t need reminding of what he did. As for those too young to remember, there is no reason to blur his record on Prop.13.

Proposition 13 passed when I was on the Western Placer Unified School Board. I was in the third year of my first term and was still considered by some older members as being wet-behind-the-ears having gotten elected when I was 19. They wanted to pass a resolution opposing Prop. 13. I supported Prop. 13. They thought I was being derelict in my duties as a board member.

Quite the opposite. Much bellyaching has been spent over the past 32 years about how Prop. 13 took away local control. It did - to a degree. But what people got in return on the local level at least was more responsible government.

Before Prop. 13 passed cities and school boards up and down the state counted all of their revenue from various sources - the schools from the state and federal government - looked at the shortfall and then adjusted property tax rates accordingly.

In districts such as Western Placer - which was designated as a Serrano-Priest district after the famous court order on school financing for being a high tax, low wealth district that couldn’t match education spending levels with most school districts in California - property owners were being pushed to the max just to provide basic education.

Prop. 13 changed all of that. Schools, cities, and counties can no longer raise property taxes at will. That is a good thing for people who work for a living. A 2 percent cap on property tax increases under Prop. 13 should be reasonable enough for any government agency to function. Of course, that refers to good times.

Brown did several things implementing Prop. 13 that drew the ire of local government, special interest groups involved with education, and the legislature. Included was a requirement that school districts receiving replacement money for the state for lost property tax could not drop any existing program.

Two years earlier in 1976 I was shocked when I pressed the superintendent at the time why he was pushing to drop summer school. When he said it was because the state was no longer reimbursing school districts 120 percent of the cost as an enticement to offer summer programs, I was confused. Then it dawned on me. Western Placer - and other districts - were making money for offering summer school. Western Placer wasn’t the only district to can summer school for that reason.

Several months later the superintendent proposed we add a program similar to Manteca CAPS for adults with mental handicaps adjacent to the district’s continuation campus. Two board members and myself asked why we were doing this when we had a tough time funding K-12 and the fact Sierra College in Rocklin offered a similar program 15 minutes away. The answer: The state was reimbursing more than 100 percent of the cost to encourage districts to establish programs.

It was ludicrous. Western Placer’s charge was K-12 education. We were getting away from our core reason for existing to “make money” after a split board ended summer school because we were simply being made whole by the state.

Brown’s condition, of course, meant the program for adults with mental handicaps wasn’t going anywhere.

The point is as governor Brown understood the shenanigans that bureaucrats and their allies in the legislature play.

The days of even 100 percent reimbursement for many programs is long gone. But Brown was on the right track when he did what he did as well as unsuccessfully trying to kill two big pay raises for the University of California system.

Is Brown the best choice for California at this juncture or is it Meg Whitman?

It’s a 50-50 gamble at best given the dynamics.

Even so, you can’t glaze over how Prop. 13 was implemented with a sound bite or two nor can you do it justice without including the hanky panky by the legislature to keep specials interests whole while setting in motion the disaster that is today the California budget.

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