Prop 30 and HSR Don’t Have Anything To Do With Each Other
Proposition 30 is one of the most important items on any ballot in the country this year. By taxing millionaires and by a small, temporary sales tax increase, California can save its schools and avoid further crippling austerity, which would be especially damaging as the state is now starting to see genuine economic recovery.
The right understands that they cannot defeat the proposition on its own merits – the public is more than willing to pay higher taxes for schools. So they’re instead attacking Prop 30 by other means. One of those avenues of attack is high speed rail. They don’t have anything to do with each other – even without HSR, California schools still face a multibillion dollar shortfall – but that isn’t stopping the haters.
Thing is, it’s quite transparent that the people making these attacks don’t support high speed rail at all. They’ve always opposed it. They can’t stand the fact that it passed at the ballot box and in the Legislature. So they’re trying to kill two birds with one stone, arguing that HSR is a reason to vote against Prop 30, and that if Prop 30 fails, it’s a sign that HSR should be defunded.
Here’s one such argument from longtime Republican operative Dan Schnur:
But while Brown has successfully convinced Californians that the schools are in need of additional funding, polling shows he has not yet convinced them that state government can be trusted to spend their tax dollars wisely. And that leaves Proposition 30 very much in doubt, with support falling off in recent weeks.
One reason might be that, despite all of the governor’s public parsimony, there is one highly visible spending spree supported by Brown: construction of the state’s proposed high-speed rail system….
Brown has little time. He needs to immediately move to convince voters that he is serious about putting the state’s fiscal house in order. One action the governor could take at this late date that might still be sufficiently dramatic to capture public attention would be for him to publicly announce that he is reversing his support for high-speed rail and to ask the Legislature to withdraw the funding it has allocated for the project pending a second public vote.
This is a deeply flawed analysis. First off, Prop 30 is neck and neck in the polls not because of HSR or concerns about government spending, but because of a reckless and destructive bit of friendly fire from ultra-wealthy political dilletante Molly Munger, who helped fund a series of anti-Prop 30 TV ads that pulled public support in the polls below the 50% mark. Munger has been backing a rival initiative, Prop 38, which has always trailed badly in the polls and has no real shot of winning. My own speculation has been that Munger wants to defeat Prop 30 because it would raise taxes on millionaires like herself, and her professed support for public schools is just a cover for that selfish interest.
Second, the public understands that government needs to spend money on important projects that can create lasting, long-term prosperity while saving money and addressing the climate crisis. Killing high speed rail would destroy jobs, reduce tax revenues, and by making California more deeply dependent on oil would mean long-term economic loss.
Finally, the math doesn’t add up. The state’s annual debt service on the high speed rail bonds is in the low hundreds of millions at best. Prop 30 would generate at least $6 billion a year for the state, according to the official fiscal analysis of the initiative. Even if Governor Brown was foolish enough to throw HSR to the wolves in hopes of passing Prop 30, it would do little to actually help the state’s finances while doing much to damage it over the long term.
Schnur isn’t the only HSR opponent to try and use Prop 30 to advance their anti-rail agenda. Morris Brown makes a similar argument at Fox and Hounds, but also reveals that even if HSR were dead, he’d still oppose Prop 30 anyway:
As previously reported in this blog and elsewhere, if you read Prop 30, you realize that Prop 30 doesn’t guarantee these new tax revenues will end up on the schools. Yes, that is what the Governor says will happen, but certainly not what is written in Prop 30.
Morris is lying here – money from Prop 30 is already budgeted for schools, so if it fails, that means an immediate cut to public schools. Teachers will be laid off, class sizes will rise. And because of Prop 98, any new revenues automatically go to schools, so those are two very firm guarantees that new money will indeed find their way into the classroom. The rest of his post is a rehash of the usual anti-HSR arguments, another attempt to link HSR and Prop 30 in the hopes that one or both proposals, essential to this state’s future, fail.
That’s the true lesson here. Those who oppose Prop 30 do so because they don’t want to do anything to make a better future for the people of California. That’s also true of those who oppose high speed rail. No wonder there’s so much overlap.