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Source: Education Intelligence

CTA Abandons Tax Hike Initiative. The day after its extended deadline for gathering signatures, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and film-maker Rob Reiner abandoned their plans to place a property tax increase initiative on the November 2004 ballot.

"Although it had collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot and enjoyed strong public opinion support, we feel that the new and complicated circumstances of the November ballot make it necessary to pull back this worthy initiative," declared Reiner and CTA President Barbara Kerr in a joint statement issued on April 8.

The announcement was cheered by the broad array of opponents of the measure, which included business and taxpayer groups (worried about the effect on the state's economy), charter school groups (most of which would have been shut out of any revenues), church and community groups (whose preschool workers would have been forced to become district employees and union members), and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had called the initiative a "job killer."

The union's abrupt dropping of the initiative, and its debatable rationale for doing so, leave many unanswered questions, some of which ought to be asked by NEA and its other state affiliates.

The first question regards the "clutter" of initiatives on the ballot, as CTA phrased it. All petitions must be turned in by April 16 to be eligible for the November ballot, and there may be as many as a dozen that will make it. Would CTA's measure have been lost in the shuffle?

On November 8, 1988, Proposition 98 the initiative that guaranteed public schools a floor of 40 percent of the state's general fund passed with 50.7 percent of the vote in a campaign largely manned and funded by CTA. On the ballot that day were 29 propositions 9 bond measures and 20 initiatives.

Second is the question of signatures. CTA claimed it gathered 900,000 signatures far beyond the 600,000 necessary for the ballot. That number would ensure a sufficient safety margin as well, since it is common for many signatures to be disqualified because they do not come from registered voters.

But now we'll never know for certain. United Teachers Los Angeles offered prizes and other locals offered cash to teachers who submitted the most signatures. On March 27, CTA's State Council representatives fanned out to local shopping malls to collect signatures. CTA set an April 1 deadline for its activists to submit petitions to the union, then extended it to April 7. The next day the union dropped the idea.

The third question involves its chances in November. CTA claimed the initiative was polling at 60 percent support. What the union didn't mention is that, historically, 60 percent support at the start of a California initiative campaign is insufficient to carry you through. The "no" votes almost always gain ground during the course of the campaign, no matter the issue.

More importantly, there were some indications that CTA was about to face another newspaper nightmare, similar to the reaction that greeted AB 2160, its bill to expand the scope of collective bargaining.

An April 7 editorial by highly regarded education columnist Peter Schrag, a bona fide liberal, called the initiative a "blatant piece of single-interest ballot box budgeting" with no accountability for how the K-12 windfall is spent. Schrag predicted districts would throw most of it on the bargaining table for the sponsor-union, which will gobble it up for salary and benefits hikes for teachers who are already the highest paid in the country. Not exactly the spin CTA was hoping for.

The fourth question involves funding. CTA's signature gathering committee has not yet had to file an expenditures report, but the Los Angeles Times reported the committee spent an estimated $2.5 million. The committee's biggest donor was not CTA, which gave $750,000, nor was it Reiner's Forum for Early Childhood Development, which donated $300,000 most of that only on April 6. No, the biggest contributor was NEA, which gave $1 million from the national union's ballot initiative/legislative crisis fund. This is the same fund that is supported through a $5 annual assessment on every NEA member. This is the same fund that NEA will ask convention delegates to gradually increase to $10 per member.

Will South Dakota teachers get their money back? Wyoming? New Mexico? Will the UTLA member who gathered the most valid signatures still get her plasma TV, even though her signatures won't ever be validated? Will CTA officers appoint a "ballot clutter" task force before they spend millions on the next aborted initiative? If a State Council vote was required to authorize the initiative, why wasn't a vote required to trash it? Will anyone at CTA be held accountable?

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Last modified: April 13, 2004

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