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Public Education the Prime Beneficiary of Better Budget Times

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By David Menefee-Libey

The California economy keeps recovering: more than 1.2 million jobs have been created in the state since the start of the recession in 2007, and tax revenues are coming in much higher than predicted.  Since K-12 schooling is the largest category of state government spending, it's no surprise that public education is the prime beneficiary of these better budget times.  The biggest fights these days are over how to divide the spoils.

Gov. Jerry Brown has pretty much called the shots so far, and continued to do so this week in his "May revise" (that's a little California budget wonk jargon) of his February budget proposal.  Public schools and other public services got a big bump, though of course some people want more.  Social service funding has not recovered to pre-recession levels.  The state legislature has put a measure on the November ballot that will set aside a portion of boom-time revenues into a "rainy day fund" to be drawn on during the busts.  And Brown also wants to cover some of the long-term debt in the teachers' pension fund.

More good news may be coming for school districts and local governments.  The legislature looks ready to enact a small reform of Prop 13 to close a loophole that enabled cagey business owners to purchase commercial real estate without triggering a property tax increase.  If it gets the required two-thirds vote and Brown's signature, there may be a little more money to fight over.

(David Menefee-Libey is professor of politics at Pomona College)


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