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Union Seeks Tax Increases for Education
The California Teachers Assn. is looking for new revenue sources to stabilize spending levels.

By Doug Smith
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 3, 2003

STATEWIDE REPRESENTATIVES of California's major teachers union voted in Los Angeles on Sunday to explore an initiative campaign aimed at raising taxes for public education.

Leaders of the 330,000-member California Teachers Assn. said polling they conducted last month showed mounting public support for tax increases targeted exclusively for the classroom.

While battling cuts in education spending that loom in the state budget crisis, the union must also seek to stabilize future spending at an adequate level, said the union's president, Wayne Johnson.

Johnson said the initiative would attempt to end the "feast or famine" environment in which public education got a boost of $1.84 billion two years ago and is facing a $2.7-billion cut this year.

Union officials said they would conduct focus groups and more extensive polling to determine what kind of taxes to propose and to devise a proposal that would direct the added revenue to the classroom.

The union raises nearly $10 million annually through member fees for initiative campaigns. It spent tens of millions of dollars in the last decade to defeat two initiatives that would have established a school voucher program. In 1988, it sponsored Proposition 98, which required the Legislature to spend about 40% of the state budget on education.

However, that measure, written to avoid taxpayer backlash, did nothing to shield education funding from the boom-and-bust cycle of state budgets.

Johnson had said in an interview with The Times only last summer that he did not think the climate was ripe for an initiative aimed at increasing taxes.

Public reaction to the budget crisis has changed the picture, he said in an interview Sunday during the union's quarterly state council meeting at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.

"Our polling tells us voters are willing to raise taxes if it goes into the classroom," Johnson said.

John Hein, the union's director of political action, said last month's polling, which the union routinely does to gauge public sentiment, showed voters would be willing to increase the sales tax, the corporate property tax or the upper brackets of the personal income tax to boost spending on education. Residential property tax, scaled back in 1978 by Proposition 13, would not be considered, he said.

"We know enough about that to know better," Hein said.

In a unanimous voice vote Sunday, more than 500 delegates at the meeting authorized the union's leadership to begin "research and development of possible 2004 initiatives to enhance school funding."

Also on Sunday, the state council adopted a statement calling on legislators to make no cuts in classroom education next year.

Acknowledging that some school cuts are likely, the union is urging legislators to shield four programs: the basic revenue limit that provides core classroom funding, the popular class-size reduction program in kindergarten through third grade, assistance for low-performing schools and special education.

Hundreds of the delegates wrote letters to their representatives urging them not to vote for a proposal that would relax class-size limits in kindergarten through third grade.

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